The International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IASSIDD) held its Europe Regional Congress at the University of Vienna on 14-17 July 2014. The congress was attended by people from all over Europe and further afield, including Australia, the US and Canada. People with disabilities and people without disabilities were welcome to attend. A number of people from Ireland attended to present their work and hear what others had to say. In this report I hope to give a flavour of the many presentations and information sessions. Overall the theme of the congress was inclusion, with emphasis placed on highlighting what researchers have found out about people with intellectual disability, and on the impact of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Intellectual Disability around the world.
The congress involved keynote speakers each day which everyone could attend, followed by parallel sessions of usually four presentations in particular subject areas. Sometimes there were up to fourteen options of parallel sessions to attend, making it very difficult to choose. The keynote speakers talked about topics such as supported decision making, inclusive sports, the role of inclusive policies in school-to-work transitions, community-based living, health promotion and healthcare. Each keynote address identified the importance of rights of people with disability in each of these areas. For example, regarding healthcare Dr Laurence Taggart highlighted that for people to have the right to good healthcare, particular actions need to be taken. These include having full access to healthcare, having appropriate health checks and suitable health promotion activities. The parallel sessions and poster presentations covered education, health-related topics, rights, community living and participation in society and work.
This congress was different than those held previously as an inclusion track was made available to facilitate people with intellectual disability to become involved. This was done in a number of ways. Each keynote presentation was followed by a debriefing session in which the speakers explained their talk in easy language to help people understand what they were saying. Some presentations were also given in easy language with additional aspects such as films to aid explanation. The three main topic areas covered were Supported Decision Making, Inclusion in the Workplace and Community Based Living. Round-table discussions were also held in which self-advocates were invited to contribute their views. One Irish group gave a presentation on their inclusive research study which centred on people with intellectual disability being involved in shaping their service. The study wanted to find out how advocacy was organised within some services and the impact on the service. The findings showed that very little seemed to change as a result of the self-advocacy initiatives. This has resulted in one self-advocacy organisation reviewing its role to ensure more effective use by the organisation. Other presentations in this area included the description of a support tool to aid in developing a person-centred plan, and a paper on the challenges of ensuring those with more severe disabilities are included in decisions about their lives.
In addition to the inclusion track, a number of symposiums dealt with particular aspects under the congress’s main themes: Education; General and Specific Health Issues; Law and Liberty of the Person; Living in the Community; Participation over the Lifespan; Work and Education and Inclusion. One symposium focused on sexuality and people with intellectual disability. Four papers were presented looking at the importance of appropriate education programmes, need for privacy, family reactions and the impact when staff transition into counsellors. Overall, these sessions demonstrated the importance of providing appropriate education and support, while recognising the rights of people to develop intimate relationships.
Health and well-being was a significant feature of the congress with symposiums on particular conditions such as diabetes, and healthy living and health promotion. One group of presenters explored theoretical frameworks of health promotion, staff attitudes to the needs of people with intellectual disability, what people with intellectual disability had to say about healthy living and the impact of a programme promoting healthy lifestyles. The overarching theme of all the papers was the need to provide various types of interventions and supports to ensure people have as much information as possible to take control of their own health and well-being. Different types of health promotion programmes are needed to ensure that information is presented in a way that is accessible and suitable for people with intellectual disability.
In general, the congress gave everyone an opportunity to attend topics of particular importance to them, while also experiencing a broad and varied programme. The inclusion track was a very welcome addition and the congress provided an excellent opportunity to network and learn about new research. Personally I enjoyed an opportunity to hear about what others are doing, the lessons they have learned and the advice on offer.