Hear our Voices! Self-advocates meet in Brussels
“We don’t need help, we need support!” – this was one of the main statements made at Inclusion Europe’s “Hear our Voices” conference, which took place in Brussels.
More than 70 self-advocates and their supporters from nearly 20 countries came to the event to discuss topics such as being a board member in an organisation, being included in the community, setting up a self-advocacy group or the right to vote.
In workshops led by self-advocates, participants talked about their own experiences and shared best practices:
“Building my net” was the title of Elisabeta Moldovan’s workshop. An activist at Inclusion Europe’s Romanian member “Ceva de Spus”, Elisabeta stressed the importance of having a close circle of friends: “Many people with disabilities find it difficult to find friends. A few years ago I was one of them”, she explained while sharing tips on how to get to know trustworthy people with similar interests.
“People in institutions can’t make their own decisions”
In his workshop entitled “My home, my city, my country: being included”, Hungarian self-advocate László Bercse from Inclusion Europe’s member ÉFOÉSZ talked about his work producing easy-to-read information and teaching about it, and how his activism helps him with being included: „People in institutions can’t make their own decisions, they have no say about their future”, he said and pointed out how persons with intellectual disabilities can be supported so they do not need to live in institutions.
Group leader Andreas Zehetner described the inclusive governance structure of Inclusion Europe’s member Lebenshilfe Austria in his workshop “Leading from the top: self-advocates on the board”: A “Trialogue” of councils of self-advocates, relatives and the organisation’s employees lead Lebenshilfe Austria and make sure that different viewpoints contribute to the decision-making process.
“Meeting with fellow self-advocates is the only way to discuss about common problems and find out how others have solved them!” Our vice-president Senada Halilčević emphasized this at her workshop “Find your voice”. The experienced self-advocate, who works at Inclusion Europe’s Croatian member ASA, encouraged participants to not stay silent in the face of injustice, and instead stand up and fight for their rights.
Inclusion Europe’s board member Harry Roche, finally, led a workshop on voting rights, aptly named “I have a say in politics”. Harry, who is an active campaigner at Inclusion Europe’s UK member mencap, had participants enact the voting process, including a ballot box!
It was also voting rights that he talked about at the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities, which all Hear our Voices participants attended. Self-advocates were impressed with the high-level event, which saw a record number of persons with intellectual disabilities participate (read more on Harry Roche’s speech and the EPPD in this article).
We must make sure that our voices are being heard stronger, louder and clearer!
On the last day of the “Hear our Voices” conference, self-advocates discussed their demands and how to move forward.
Sara Pickard, an activist at Inclusion International representing Europe, led this round-up session which led to a number of important statements:
“In some countries, people with intellectual disabilities can vote and in others, they can’t. We need to fight for the same rights everywhere!” was one of these messages, and also the affirmation that self-advocates can contribute to put EU policies in action. – The demand that “politicians should live our lives for one day so they can better understand how it is” was another comment, followed by the statement mentioned earlier: “We don’t need help, we need support!”
The conclusion that Sara Pickard draw was widely welcomed by the participants: „We must make sure that our voices are being heard stronger, louder and clearer!”
— LuisGaboVP (@VpGabo) December 7, 2017