Thursday, June 14, 2012

Learning Hand in Hand

This week instead of heading to work as usual, I attended the Annual Conference on Independent Living at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. While I had some background knowledge from volunteering at the Western Wisconsin Center for Independent Living in Menomonie, WI, I wasn’t prepared for the wealth of knowledge and insight I was about to walk away with. From the workshops to the mixers, exhibits and luncheons, every moment provided an occasion for learning. 

Over the course of four days, we had the opportunity to attend five workshops of our choice. I attended the workshop on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: International Human Rights in the 21st Century on Monday and Forced Electroshock: Literature and Lived Experience on Wednesday. On Thursday I attended Recovery and the IL Philosophy, Measuring CIL Services that Improve Community Participation for People with Disabilities: A Comparative Study of the United States, Japan and Korea, and Power with a Cause: Women in the Independent Living Movement throughout History and Into the Future. The issues of mental health proved to be of particular interest with my background and passion for Psychology and I hope to apply the knowledge I retained upon entering the workforce after graduate school. 
While I unfortunately was unable to participate in the march to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, I did have the fortunate opportunity to listen in on ODEP (Office of Disability Employment Policy)’s quarterly meeting at the Department of Labor. Considering the weather, I was satisfied being indoors the majority of the day and was able to steal glances at the nation’s beautiful capitol safely behind glass.

I also had the privilege to meet some amazing people including Judy Heumann, Amber Smock, Ryan Easterly, Colleen Starkloff and Yoshiko Dart. Perhaps the most memorable encounter for me however, was attempting to explain sign language to blind triplets who had never experienced that form of communication before. With their hands on mine I demonstrated the alphabet and a few other signs. The speed at which they picked it up was astonishing to me as I had been trying to teach my friends and family for years. This type of encounter is what defines the NCIL conference. It is a place where everyone learns something new, whether from one of the workshops, booths, or best of all from each other. 

Until next time,
Judy D. 

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