When Molly Kennedy asked attendees at the beginning of the day to raise their hands if they knew what “self-advocacy” meant, not a single hand went up in a room filled with more than 100 persons with developmental disabilities.
“Wow, we’re starting out at a great spot…” she joked.
Five hours later, participants were excitedly huddled around tables brainstorming tangible tactics to gather and speak for their rights and the rights of their peers.
Get Safe, Area Board 12 of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD), and Inland Regional Center (IRC) hosted the 2012 Self-Advocates Conference on June 2 in San Bernardino to provide a unique opportunity for persons with developmental disabilities, located in the same region to come together, share ideas and concerns, and develop their collective voice through workshops geared toward creating successful self-advocacy groups.
It seems as if every week there is another appalling article in the newspaper about a person with disabilities being victimized because they couldn’t speak for themselves; now more than ever events like this are the key to empowering this population with the knowledge and confidence to advocate for itself and stand up for its rights.
The conference began at 10 a.m. with a motivational speech from Kennedy, the conference’s keynote speaker, member of Area Board 13 of the SCDD, and a woman with cerebral palsy who has been an advocate for persons with disabilities for more than 20 years.
“I’m really excited to talk to everyone about what self-advocacy is and how it’s not only important for your own life, but also for the whole disabled community to make all our lives better,” Kennedy said before her speech. “I hope today people learn that it’s their life and they get to decide how they want to live it.”
After differentiating between self-advocacy (speaking for you) and system-advocacy (speaking for the community) and why both are important, Kennedy urged the audience to take control of their own lives and happiness.
“That’s what being a self-advocate is,” she said. “Saying, ‘This is what I want’ and working on a way to achieve that.”
“Think about what you want, plan how to get it, and then do it.”
After Kennedy’s empowering speech, Kyle Chavez (MSLM, HCS) took center-stage for a presentation on leadership and to provide tools for participants to become effective leaders. Chavez also had the advocates participate in a networking exercise that had them walking around, meeting new people, and learning about their peers. Chavez stressed the importance of meeting new people when networking for a self-advocacy group, as the majority of your support will come from people you haven’t met yet.
Next, it was lunchtime. As the attendees enjoyed their sandwiches, Get Safe Executive Director Stuart Haskin asked each table to write down what each person’s gift was—something he or she was good at. Answers ranged from dancing and singing, to being a good listener or worker. Participants were happy to share their gifts with their peers, and many felt inspired to even get up in front of the room and show everyone their talent.
After lunch, attendees participated in another workshop on social media and how it can be a useful tool when networking and gaining support for a future self-advocacy group. Participants enjoyed learning about Internet safety and a few social media tips, like how they can upload photos from their cell-phones straight to their Facebook group’s page.
The day wrapped up around 2 p.m. with an interactive discussion with Haskin and Kennedy about the importance of self-advocacy within the disabled community. Each table was asked to brainstorm as many ways as possible that they could continue their advocacy work after the conference was over; ideas ranged from educating friends who weren’t able to attend about what was learned at the conference, to setting up a picnic for other IRC clients to discuss system advocacy.
Kennedy says she felt encouraged by the enthusiasm and learning-curve of the people in attendance.
“Each one of the people who left here today are stronger self-advocates, which will not only carry on into the community, but the whole state and beyond,” she said. “Everyone should be very happy with the results, as I am. I can’t wait until the next [conference]!”
Haskin also added his recognition for the evolution of the group during the one-day event
“Through the day we saw growth from everyone,” Haskin said. “Overall, this was something we needed, something they needed, to build that voice. That’s what Get Safe believes in, helping them help themselves.”
Get Safe will team up next with Area Board 11 on July 20 for the Orange County Self-Advocates Conference. For more information, visit www.getsafeusa.com for the conference flyer and online registration form, coming soon.
Check out more photos of the event on the Get Safe Facebook page, and click the link below to view the 2012 Self-Advocates Conference (Inland Region) video!
Thanks again to Area Board 12, Inland Regional Center, all the volunteers for making this conference a success, and special thanks to Kern Regional Center for its support, and Canyon Springs for being a part of the day! And most importantly, thank you to all our new Self-Advocates for sharing your ideas with us!