The National Advocacy Conference is an annual event that draws hundreds of delegates from across National Learning Network and RehabCare services across Ireland.
This year’s National Advocacy Conference took place on Wednesday March 4th in the Gibson Hotel in Dublin. Delegates from RehabCare and National Learning network travelled from across Ireland to participate in the election of Regional Advocacy Committees and to celebrate the achievements of their peers standing down from the committees. The conference saw unprecedented participation, with 230 people in attendance. Many of the delegates will have been active advocates in their own centres, colleges and communities. The day-long event offers an opportunity for them to share ideas, success stories, and to make connections.
The conference was opened by Fergus Finlay, who spoke about being a disability advocate and the importance of persons with disabilities being self-advocates. He discussed issues around the employment of persons with disabilities, and need for self-advocates and advocates to tell the UN Commission that Ireland isn’t living up to the central tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The three Regional Advocacy Committees addressed the conference in various forms. The East Committee each spoke about the impact being on the committee has had on them and their achievements on the committee. The South Committee prepared a video in advance that explained what the committee is, what they do on the committee, and what elections are. The West Committee presented the Sunflower Lanyard for persons with hidden disabilities to wear to indicate to service industry staff that they need more time or support.
The conference also heard from award winning film-maker, Nicholas Ryan Purcell, who presented clips from his documentary film ‘This is Nicholas- Living with Autism’ and shared his personal journey with the delegates as a film-maker and as someone with Autism. Following this, elections were called and delegates poured out from the main conference room into smaller rooms to hear from candidates and to cast their votes. Candidates made their case to their peers, and voting was underway followed by lunch and an Assistive Technology Expo in the foyer.
After lunch, Rehab Group CEO, Barry McGinn, addressed the conference and then presented Certificates of Achievement to exiting committee members. Election results were announced and new committees were formed. An open forum, where delegates can ask questions to the organisations Senior Leadership Team, took place towards the end of the conference. Delegates asked about graduation ceremonies for NLN students, for assignment to be in every day English and more accessible, and the rebrand of The Rehab Group.
The conference was closed by self-advocate and disability rights activist, Gary Kearney. Gary spoke about the importance of the delegates voices and to use them so that people like him, and like themselves, can advocate on disability rights in Ireland.