Inclusion International 15th World Congress

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Berlin 6–19 June 2010
The 15th World Congress of Inclusion International took place on 16.19 June 2010 in Berlin. The congress was the largest event in Inclusion International’s 50-year history, with an attendance of 2700 people with intellectual disabilities, family members, policy makers and professionals from more than 80 countries. The conference slogan was ‘Transforming global rights into action’.

The main objective of the congress was to discuss and advance the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities worldwide and to pave the way for an inclusive society. The congress provided a platform for all stakeholders to exchange experiences and innovative ideas.

Jan Jaab, the European Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the German Minister for Employment and Social Affairs Ursula von der Leyen attended the congress and expressed their support for disability issues. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a video message addressing disability policies and Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, sent a message which spoke highly of the congress as an initiative to fulfil the goals of the UN Convention.

Ireland was well represented by members of Inclusion Ireland and the National Institute For Intellectual Disability Trinity College Dublin (NIID). Frieda and Mandy Finlay gave a presentation on promoting healthy life styles for people with intellectual disability. Paul Alford spoke on ‘My right to an independent life’. NIID representatives Niamh Lally, Dr Edurne Garcia Iriarte and Marie Wolf informed people attending Speakers Corner on the work being carried by the NIID, including their third-level course entitled CCL and ‘All I Want to Say’, which is a survey of people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland.

A central topic of concern for all participants proved to be legal capacity; the right to make one’s own decisions, including the right to political participation. Inclusive education, both in school and life-long learning, was another major topic, as was work, including getting a job and the support to do it, and learning new skills and training. Full citizenship, the empowerment of self-advocates and living independently in the community were among other main issues for discussion and debate.

Many presentations and workshops highlighted the importance of advancing the implementation of the UN Convention; its ratification is merely the starting point and countries need to build on it. The monitoring of the implementation of the Convention should be done by independent national monitoring bodies—especially those organisations representing people with disabilities and, very importantly, people with disabilities themselves.

So far, all EU member states have signed the UN Convention and 13 have already ratified it. The remaining member states are preparing for its ratification. The EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is being prepared to ensure a solid and strong link between the Convention and the main political programmes of the EU 2020 strategy.

People with intellectual disabilities (850 of the congress participants) had a major influence throughout the Congress. Many of them spoke in sessions about their personal experiences as self-advocates and encouraged others to stand up for their rights. People with intellectual disabilities should play a key role in monitoring activities of the UN Convention

During the congress, the importance of good support for self-advocates at all levels was discussed, from the support of friends and family, to support.people, the community and the government. Many people expressed their desire to become self-advocates, but they worried about not always receiving sufficient support to do this.

Self-advocate David Corner from New Zealand summed up one of the sessions by saying: ‘the future looks bright and everyone hopes that it will be even brighter than we can imagine.’ All participants were impressed by the spirit of unity and commitment at the World Congress. self-advocates from the SAAG Association from Canada shared their impressions in a blog, with words like ‘The congress has been a good experience for me because I can talk more about independent living and rights for people with disabilities’ (Kelly); and ‘I found out that there are many people with disabilities, from many different countries, that suffer in similar ways as we do.’ (Ken).

During the congress, the new presidents of Inclusion Europe and Inclusion International were elected. The General Assembly of Inclusion Europe elected Ivo Vykydal from SPMP in the Czech Republic as its President and Klaus Lachwitz from Lebenshilfe Germany took over the presidency of Inclusion International. Also, the European Platform of Self-Advocates (EPSA) re-elected Andrew Doyle from ENABLE Scotland, as its chairperson. Inclusion was also the central point of all cultural activities which complemented the programme. Inclusive theatre groups with actors with disabilities performed at the venue, including the internationally-recognised Theatre Maatwerk from the Netherlands. A variety of experimental workshops, art work and musical performances allowed everyone to join in and express themselves. In addition to the many different sessions, people could engage in various opportunities for social interaction. Speakers’ corners allowed participants to tackle issues and questions concerning intellectual disability around the themes of the congress.

Feedback from self-advocates and personal messages on colourful paper were pinned to a Talking Wall. On Friday, a congress party was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Inclusion International. One of the sensations of the party was a wonderful band from Denmark (Karavanda Band). This band forms part of the Art House Karavana in Arhus, Denmark, where intellectually disabled artist have stable jobs in the field of art, theatre and music. It was a wonderful event, with everybody enjoying themselves.

At the closing session of the congress, it was announced that the next Inclusion International General Assembly 2012 will be held in Washington DC. The Inclusion Europe General Assembly will be held in Cyprus. The final message from the congress was the demand of all the delegates for Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Society.

Klaus Lachwitz, the new president of Inclusion International.

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