namhi AGM, 9–10 May 2003

by Clíona Ní Chúaláin

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Nearly 300 delegates gathered in the Tower Hotel, Waterford on 9–10 May for the namhi AGM. This year’s conference had the theme ‘Promoting good health for people with intellectual disability’, with a workshop format of presentations and discussions on three aspects of promoting good health.

Cllr Oliver Cleary, Mayor of Waterford, opened the conference on the Friday evening, followed by an address from Mary Davis, CEO of the 2003 Special Olympics World Games. Members were delighted to hear her words of support in the campaign to publish rights-based disability legislation and to secure adequate funding for services.

namhi President Jean Spain gave her address with a note of disappointment—having to address members in light of the current difficulties being faced by many families as a result of funding shortfalls. She expressed disappointment that her time as President of namhi should be a time of protesting and campaigning, when she thought those days were past and that we now should be concentrating on positive activities.

The main business of the AGM—elections, General Secretary Deirdre Carroll’s report, etc.—completed Friday’s proceedings. Deirdre described the activities and developments over the past year that have had an impact on namhi and the sector. Much of namhi’s work in the current year has centred on campaigns to highlight funding shortfalls, as well as involvement in the disability legislation consultation process and the product of that process—the report Equal citizens. She noted the significance of the NDA’s publication of draft National Standards in Disability Services, which she said would serve as a basis for promoting quality in services.

The keynote speaker, Dr Mike Kerr, Senior Lecturer and consultant at the University of Wales, addressed delegates on Saturday morning. Dr Kerr is an expert on the health needs of people with intellectual disability. He emphasised how crucial it is to address the health care needs of people with intellectual disability, as they generally have poorer health status than their peers and a healthy life is a prerequisite for a good quality of life. He described how we can best address health needs by understanding them, identifying disparity in health—and its causes. He summed up by asking people to consider the adequacy of a health advocacy role for all needs, to consider systems to ensure health checks, and to ensure health promotion, diet, exercise etc.

The day continued with delegates dispersing to three parallel workshops on healthcare needs. The first workshop ‘Steps for healthy living’ included another short presentation from Dr Kerr on how to plan your health. This was followed by a presentation from educational psychologist Cynthia Silva on alcohol and health, focusing primarily on the effects of alcohol consumption on the foetus. Isabel Greene, senior dietician at Waterford Regional Hospital, spoke about diet and people with intellectual disability. The presentations finished off with Maura Haran, senior dental surgeon (special needs), South Eastern Health Board, who spoke about oral health for people with intellectual disability. The workshop included an open discussion and questions and answers.

The second workshop, entitled ‘Promoting mental health’ heard again from Dr Kerr on recognising common mental illness, followed by Aileen Broderick, principal of a special school, who spoke about the role of the school in promoting mental health and finally from Ann Keenan, social worker with Brothers of Charity, Waterford who spoke about the importance of work for positive mental health. Delegates then had an opportunity to give their views and ask questions.

‘Health and the older person with intellectual disability’ was the theme for the third workshop, which included a presentation from Mary McCarron, TCD research fellow, who spoke about dementia and the older person. Kathy O’Grady, psychologist with the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary Services, discussed how to create a healthy environment for the older person with intellectual disability. The workshop also heard from Christine Lynch (Cope Foundation) who described the organisation’s designated residential service for older people.

Following general feedback from the workshops, delegates heard and discussed the 25 motions before the AGM. The liveliest discussions centred on motions relating to the funding shortfalls. RTÉ News, as well as other media, reported the anger of AGM delegates at the funding situation.

The conference concluded with the customary AGM dinner dance, where delegates relaxed after a successful, lively conference. A presentation was given to Gladys Johnston of the Offaly Association, who was awarded namhi honorary life membership.

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