Self-Advocacy and Community – A blog by Gary Bourlet

Gary Bourlet, Self-Advocate & Membership and Engagement Lead for Learning Disability England

One thing I love about being a self-advocate is that I get to meet lots of other self-advocates from all around the country. In February I met lots of new people at the Learning Disability England conferences.

And in March, I travelled to Blackpool to attend the North-West Regional Self-Advocates Conference run by NWTDT and Pathways. It was a good conference with lots of people having fun.  These people from the North-West know how to party! 

Doing a conference like this takes a lot of planning and organising, it starts early and finishes later. There were about 250-300 attendees at this conference, mainly self-advocates and some PAs. We started off with Zumba – dancing is great for your health!

People enjoyed telling their stories about the conference and everyone was excited to speak. There were good stories, but also some people were worried about cuts to services and whether their services would be affected.

What I really liked was that at the Blackpool conference, everyone was given the opportunity to have their say and discuss the things that are important to them, just like at the Learning Disability England conferences too.

I think it is important to have regional conferences because it brings people from the Learning Disability community together. If I was running a conference I would I would make sure there was a big exhibition area with room for lots of sponsors.

I would also definitely have a gala dinner if I ran a conference – Just so I can wear a tuxedo! This was one of my favourite parts of the whole event. I was also nominated for an award and I won! I was so happy, I have never won anything before in my life!

I also spoke to some people who are doing inclusive research. I co-lead on a research project called No Research About Us Without Us with Dr Amy Russell. People with a learning disability are often excluded from research and not enough is done to support people with learning disability to understand and take part in research.

I really hope the conference will happen again next year. It is important as a self-advocate to connect with others from the community, and find out what matters to people with learning disabilities in different parts of the country.

Self-advocacy and advocacy are part of living a Good Life – read what members say needs to happen in Good Lives here.