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15th World Congress of Inclusion International – 16-19 June 2010 (Berlin, Germany)

Celebrating the largest event in the history of Inclusion International, 2.700 people with intellectual disabilities, family members, policy makers and professionals from more than 80 countries gathered under the slogan “Transforming Global Rights into Action” at the 15th World Congress of Inclusion International from 16-19 June 2010 in Berlin. The main objective 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.

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, getting 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 under debate.

Jan Jařab, 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.

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 different actors, including independent national monitoring bodies and  civil society, especially those organisations representing people with disabilities and, very importantly, by people with disabilities themselves.

At European level, the UN Convention is already influencing the European Union’s policies but needs to be better known and the requirements of the UN CRPD need to be further recognised. 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 had a major influence throughout the Congress. More than 850 participants had an intellectual disability themselves. 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. In addition to this, adequate individual support should be provided to ensure their capacity to fulfill this.

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 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 that “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” expressed by Kelly; or “I found out that there are many people with disabilities, from many different countries, that suffer in similar ways as we do.”, by 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 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 such as the internationally recognized Theater 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 different forms of social interaction. Speakers’ corners allowed participants to tackle issues and questions concerning intellectual disability around the congress themes. Personal messages and feedback from self-advocates on colourful paper were pinned to a Talking Wall. The latter also reflected the cultural diversity of the event and the multitude of impressions.

Engaging people also through the Internet was another important highlight of the World Congress; Social media is used to ensure ongoing interaction and discussion with participants and others who could not attend in person.