On 6–7 September 2005, namhi (The National Association for People with Intellectual Disability) hosted the second ‘My Voice My Choice’ national self-advocacy conference. The Radisson SAS Hotel in Athlone, Co. Westmeath was the venue for this year’s conference. Following the success of last year’s conference, there was great anticipation and excitement as 300 self-advocates and their supporters arrived in Athlone.
Dr Patricia O’Brien, Director of the National Institute for the Study of Learning Difficulties at Trinity College Dublin, kindly agreed to chair the two-day conference. Everyone agreed that Patricia made a wonderful chairperson and did a great job. The conference began with namhi Chairperson Stephen Kealy giving the opening address, followed by Christina Burke, a self-advocate living in Galway, who introduced the programme for the day. The programme began with a presentation by the President of the European Platform of Self-Advocates, Ulla Topi. A joint video presentation by COPE Foundation and the Brothers of Charity followed. Next, there was an informative presentation by Ita Mangan, solicitor, on disability payments and charges. Everyone agreed that this was a very useful presentation. In the afternoon there was a drama presentation by the Stop & Stare Theatre Company which was followed by Christina Burke and Maria Wolfe who gave a presentation on their experience of independent living. This was captured by the RTÉ television programme, 360, which they shared with the audience. In the evening, there was great excitement as namhi launched the first ‘My Voice My Choice’ Information Pack. The pack contained five booklets, which include information on advocacy, self-advocacy, money, rights and bullying. The pack was produced in an easy-to-read style with an interactive CD-ROM. It was noted that it is the first of its kind to be produced in Ireland specifically for people with intellectual disability. The launch of the pack was a great success and there was plenty of positive feedback from self-advocates. That evening there was lots of fun and laughter as everyone enjoyed the conference dinner.
The next day, the conference offered a range of five workshops: (1) Rights Awareness, (2) My Money, (3) Communication, (4) Bullying, and (5) A Creative Workshop. Following on from the workshops there was an open forum and questions from the floor. The panel of speakers consisted of policy makers, government officials and Athlone’s very own Senator Mary O’Rourke. The forum provided the self-advocates with an opportunity to express their opinions and feelings and to tell the panel what support they feel they need in making informed choices about how they live their lives. Panel members were able to answer many of the questions put to them from the floor.
The delegates were sorry to see the end of the conference, but as they made their way home, they felt once again that it had been a great success—setting an even higher standard for next year!