Europe in Action: More than 200 participants exchange ideas and experiences about “Love, life and friendship“
“I’m very happy to have friends, family and a partner. But all people with intellectual disabilities should have the same.” Ellen Goodey, self-advocate from Inclusion Europe’s member mencap, got to the heart of this year’s Europe in Action conference in her speech.
The three-day-event was all about “Love, life and friendship” – and how to make sure that people with intellectual disabilities can experience them just like everyone else.
“Love and friendship are the most intense things in life”
More than 200 people from all over Europe came to Prague from 1-3 June 2017 to the conference which was jointly organised with Inclusion Czech Republic.
Apart from self-advocates, speakers also included representatives from the European Commission, Inclusion Europe and Inclusion Czech Republic as well as family members, professionals and politicians.
Inclusion Europe’s President Maureen Piggot stressed that “love and friendship are the most intense things in life.” And therefore they should be accessible to everyone.
Inclusion Europe’s Vice-president and EPSA chair Senada Halilčević built upon this and pointed out how the conference itself could be “an opportunity to build bridges and friendships.”
Participants took this advice to heart. There was a lot of active exchange between participants during the entire conference.
Deinstitutionalisation – a driver for a better social life
Tania Tsiora from the European Commission’s DG Employment (Disability and Inclusion Unit) had mentioned it at the panel discussion: Funding from the European Commission should have an impact on inclusion instead of institutionalisation (read also our related article).
The importance of deinstitutionalisation for a person’s social life was illustrated by the workshop of deinstitutionalisation expert Juultje Holla, who explained how she helps people with intellectual disabilities who have left institutions to find friends and build up a social life.
She took the example of her former client Jack: “In the institution, he only had a limited choice of leisure activities. Once he was out, he could find out what he was really interested in – and develop relationships while pursuing his hobbies.”
Elisabeta Moldovan, self-advocate and Inclusion Europe board member, underlined in her presentation how crucial friends are to stay out of institutions and building a live in the community:
If it wasn’t for my friends, I would be back in a residential institution by now!
A number of other self-advocates gave insights into their personal stories during the conference.
Ellen Goodey illustrated how she lives with her friends, family and her partner Alan and how potentially having children is “our choice”.
Héctor Santana Sánchez from Inclusion Europe’s Spanish member Plena Inclusión explained how he is dealing with the double discrimination he experiences as a person with Down Syndrome who is also homosexual.
Róska Horvátová and Matúš Kubove, from Slovakia, talked about how they started living together and the obstacles they encounter in the process of getting married, but also the joy they feel for the fact that they found each other.
And Inclusion Europe board member Harry Roche explained why it is important to campaign for the right to love and relationships, with “up to 50% of people with intellectual disability experiencing chronic loneliness”. He also gave some examples of innovative initiatives tackling this problem.
The family perspective
“No one is an island, only on his own” – this is what Jan Paleček father and son concluded in their presentation on how parents can help and encourage their children to find social relationships.
Iva Šiková spoke about her daughter Zuzka, who has high support needs, and how she helps her find friends, while maintaining her own social relationships, working and supporting her husband on their farm.
The conference was also a safe space to discuss the worries parents and other family members might have. Or to talk about difficult issues like neglect or abuse.
Martina Venglářová, from Czechia, spoke about how to detect sexual violence and abuse.
Senada Halilčević gave a workshop about “Rights, consent and capacity in relationships” where she explained how to ensure that relations are being struck up in a consensual way. In her workshop, it also became clear how people with intellectual disabilities are often demanded more than others to be “allowed” to express their love, which can lead to grotesque situations:
To establish their “capacity to get married”, judge asked them: What is love?
How absurd is that?#EuropeInAction
— Inclusion Europe (@InclusionEurope) June 2, 2017
Participants were excited about the conference and gave very positive feedback. They agreed that the topic was of utmost importance, and that a lot needs still to be done both on the legal side and in society so people with intellectual can have equal rights to find and maintain friendships and love relationships.
This was also expressed through their social media posts which they shared using the hashtag #EuropeInAction:
— InclusionIntl (@InclusionIntl) June 3, 2017
The conference report with summaries of all workshops and seminars and the conference film will be published soon.
On the conference website you can find pictures of the conference.