On 18–19 June, Inclusion Ireland held its fourth My Voice — My Choice Self Advocacy Conference. Over 200 people attended the conference in Ballinasloe, County Galway by Áine Ní Aileagain Advocacy Officer, Inclusion Ireland


The theme of the conference was ‘What Supports do You Need?’ The conference gave self-advocates an opportunity to declare their views and have their voice heard. Self-advocates discussed how getting the right supports allows people to live independent and satisfied lives. People talked about having their own place to live, relationships, travel, getting a job, and being part of their community.

Above: A big wave by delegates at the self-advocacy conference

Sean Ryan, Maria Wolfe, Phil Davy, Paul Alford and Andrew Doyle opened the conference and also give powerful presentations. They are lifelong campaigners for self-advocacy. They shared their experiences of how speaking up for themselves and getting the right support has given them control of their lives.

Disability Minister John Moloney spoke at the conference. He said the Government should be advocates for people with a disability.

Andrew Doyle is a board member of Inclusion Europe and the Chairperson of the European Platform for Self Advocates. He is a member of ENABLE Scotland’s ACE Committee. Andrew talked about getting the right support in his life. Andrew travels around Europe participating in conferences and training people with intellectual disabilities to speak up. He lives happily with his new wife Lynn in the South of Scotland.

Maria Wolfe has become a positive role model for self-advocates. She talked about getting the right support. Marie said we want to be able to choose the kind of support that suits us best. Good support will help people get what they want and will help more people get into a position where they can make a difference. She said we need supporters not to see us as disabled people, but to see us as people first.

Sean Ryan is a self-advocacy leader from Cork. He gave a very moving presentation. He said a society that does not recognise a person is not a fair society. Sean said there have been a lot of positive changes for people with disabilities, but a lot more needs to happen. He asked the Minister to close all institutions for people with disabilities, saying with supports in the community, people can live independent lives. Paul Alford talked about how self-advocacy is speaking up for your self and telling people what you need. Paul spoke about his involvement in advocacy over the last ten years; how he has become more confident and independent. Paul has travelled a lot. He has a job and is soon getting his own apartment. Paul encouraged people to join their own local advocacy group.

The Samba Drummers from Cope Foundation in Cork shared their energetic and wonderful sound on both days of the conference. The Samba Drummers are taught by Eoin Nash. Eoin believes music and creativity benefit us in many ways. Everyone agreed as they joined in the rhythm.

People’s pages

There was a ‘wish wall’ at the conference, where people could write their wishes. These are some of the comments from the wish wall:
I would like to get married and settle down

  • I would like to have more friends
  • I would like to have a job
  • I would like to have a boyfriend
  • I would like to have my own house

Phil Davy discussed peer advocacy. She said people with disabilities at times experience the same barriers and understand how it feels. Phil said supporting each other means the power balance is equal. Phil said peer advocacy is giving the power back to people with disabilities.

The Brothers of Charity Research into Action Group showed a powerful video. They encourage people to think about how they can work in a person-centred way. The group made the video to show how important it is for people in residential homes to be listened to and have choices.

Padraic Maher talked about living in his own apartment which he is renting through Mayo County Council. Padraic gets support from the Community Facilitation Service provided by Western Care. The service is individual to each person.

Local community services are used for health, training, employment and housing needs. For people who need extra support there is a drop-in service that offers information supports to people in the evening time and at weekends. Padraic is very happy with the service supports. They are there for him when he needs them.

The 2008 conference was a great opportunity for self-advocates to take the microphone and do the talking. People came from all over Ireland and shared their experiences. They discussed difficulties and struggles they are experiencing. They also said the right support allows people to live their life the way they want to.

Donal Toolan chaired the conference and with his skill and humour he created an atmosphere of support and respect for all.

Following the self-advocacy conference, Inclusion Ireland co-opted two self-advocates onto the Board of Inclusion Ireland. Inclusion Ireland’s CEO Deirdre Carroll said she was ‘delighted to announce that Maria Wolfe and Sean Ryan will now be Members of the Board of Inclusion Ireland’.


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