Fourteen members of Advocating Change Together (ACT), People First Minnesota and People First New Ulm, attended the National Self-Advocacy Conference, May 27-30, 2004 in Anaheim, California. The conference brought 1,400 people from 40 states together to discuss disability issues, combine national organizing efforts, share information and network with disability rights activists. The main theme of the conference was to promote choice, empowerment and disability awareness.
People First Minnesota advisor Cliff Poetz reports that the conference is “about shifting perspective about what it means to be a person with a disability; it’s about naming the fact that people with disabilities don’t need to change to fit society – society needs to change to accommodate all people.” Poetz adds that one of the goals of People First Minnesota is to get better connected with the national movement and that attending a conference like this one “is a great way to build relationships and learn from others.” He was particularly impressed with the work of the national self-advocacy group Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) in their ‘get out the vote’ efforts. He will use some of the resources they shared at the conference to jump-start People First Minnesota’s efforts to engage people with disabilities in the November election.
One of the goals of the Minnesota self-advocacy movement as defined by the eight self-advocacy groups from around the state is to increase leadership and participation in the disability rights movement by people of color. Carol Robinson (whose participation in the conference was sponsored by the Headwaters Fund of Social Justice) spent her time at the conference meeting with groups to create strategies on how to promote diversity efforts on both a local and national level. “I’m jazzed,” says Robinson. “I met with people of color from all around the country to talk about our goals, our dreams and our vision for the future. Robinson reports that she will continue to hold the local groups accountable for diversity efforts and will stay connected with what is happening on a national level.”
Advocating Change Together’s History Exhibit was a main attraction at the conference. The 21-panel exhibit traces perceptions, attitudes and services in the history of persons with developmental and other disabilities. People First Minnesota Advisor John Smith says that “it’s great to have something visual to refer to, to make connections to our history, and see how change happens over time.” Smith adds “I think setting the stage with visuals is so important to creating an atmosphere for change, power and collective action.”
Poetz reports that the national conference was definitely successful in energizing Minnesota’s self-advocacy groups to continue their important work in helping folks with developmental and other disabilities see themselves as part of a larger disability rights movement. Minnesota was well represented at this national event and participants are eager to share what they learned with the community.
For more information about what’s happening in the Minnesota Self-Advocacy Movement, or to get involved, contact Rick Cardenas at Advocating Change Together, 651-641-0297 or John Smith at People First Minnesota 612-624-0219.