National Advocacy Conference

The National Advocacy Conference is an annual event that draws hundreds of delegates from across National Learning Network and RehabCare services across Ireland.

The annual National Advocacy Conference went virtual this year, with a National Advocacy Week taking place on the mornings of October 19th, 20th and 21st 2021

While the Advocacy Conference usually takes place in person and is a very popular event, we felt that due to uncertainty around Covid-19 restrictions it was better to move things online. The theme for the week was self-advocacy. Holding a National Advocacy Week online resulted in unprecedented participation, with over 80 different centres from right across the country in attendance and many more of our service users and students logging in remotely – in total reaching an estimated national audience of approximately 800 people

Advocacy Week was opened each day by a member of one of our Regional Advocacy Committees. A different region represented each day, introducing the speakers and outlining what lay ahead.

Day 1

On Day 1, Minister Anne Rabbitte launched the event, speaking about self-advocacy for people with disabilities and the new Assisted Decision Making Act coming into law next year. The Minister discussed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and some of the important work her department is doing to implement the Convention fully, before finally giving some sound advice to those standing for election to the Regional Advocacy Committees.

The focus of the first day of Advocacy Week was Mental Health and we heard from two mental health advocates. The first was Jim Walsh of the Irish Advocacy Network, a mental health organisation led by people with personal experience of mental health difficulties and he gave a great presentation on his organisation and the supports available to people.

Rachel Hughes from Shine then talked us through mental health wellness, well-being and recovery supports. We then went live to a number of centres to get feedback and questions based on Rachel’s presentation.

Day 2

Day two of Advocacy Week opened with a look at a project based around getting more people from NLN and Rehab services involved in interviewing job applicants. The ‘Inclusive Interview Panel Project’ has been very successful and hopefully something that will develop further in the future.

We then learned a little more about a consultation process that the Regional Advocacy Committees were involved in – namely a review of the Government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). With their feedback, we made a cartoon video, called a Doodlie, looking at the issue of access to transport for people with disabilities.

The Chairperson of the Rehab Board, Aidan Walsh then spoke to us about exactly what the Board does and some of their plans for the coming years.

For the main piece of the day, we had a fantastic presentation from Josephine McLoughlin on Assisted Decision Making. Centres around the country then had a discussion with Josephine, looking at different scenarios that people might experience in their day-to-day lives. It was great to have such an informative piece on a very important change in the law that will affect us all next year.

Day 3

On the last day of Advocacy Week, we started out by learning a little more about IPLANIT – an online planning tool for our service users and students. A short video showed how IPLANIT helps promote self-advocacy and gives people a say over their own plans and what they want to do.

Election results were announced and new advocacy committees for each region were formed. We thanked all our outgoing committee members and they were presented with a certificate of appreciation in their individual centres.

An open forum, where service users and students from around the country ask questions of the organisations Senior Leadership Team, took place towards the end of the conference. Our service users and students asked a wide range of questions, including questions about the new Strategic Plan, climate action, assisted-decision making training, Irish Sign Language, leadership, and getting back to normal following Covid-19.

The winners of an ISL competition were announced by CEO Barry McGinn, who then gave a closing address to wrap up Advocacy Week. Barry spoke about how the organisation managed through the Covid-19 pandemic and also about the new Strategic Plan for Rehab Group.

Rehab CEO Barry McGinn on screen during the conference
Rehab CEO Barry McGinn speaking during the National Advocacy Conference

To learn more about our National Advocacy Conference please see our National Advocacy Conference report below: