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Self-advocacy event a “journey of partnership”

 At the self advocacy learning event in Donegal, individuals accessing disability services stand in a group holding a  self advocacy  banner

“Self-advocacy doesn’t just happen - it requires support and encouragement. It needs the right environment in order to help people gain their voice,” according to PJ Cleere, Disability Federation of Ireland. Speaking at a self-advocacy learning event in Donegal in recent weeks, PJ referred to a “journey of partnership, where all partners commit to hear and really listen to what is being said,” adding that the recent event marked “an important step on this journey.”

Self-advocacy, PJ explained, “is essentially the action of communicating and representing one’s needs, views or interests. It is about understanding one’s rights, speaking up, taking action, and taking control of one’s life. Where people cannot speak up for themselves, they are supported to do so by others. Effective self-advocacy will mean that a person has good information and training. It also means they receive the right support when needed, and that they can access opportunities for learning. This in turn increases self-confidence.” PJ added that such advocacy can be done at an individual or group level.

Hosted by HSE Community Healthcare Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan, Sligo (CH CDLMS) Disability Services in collaboration with the Disability Federation of Ireland, the learning event was attended by individuals accessing disability services, key workers, self-advocates, staff from disability services, facilitators and staff from other HSE support services.

Barry Lynch from Inclusion Ireland noted that “in the North West we have been working closely with disabled people, and the HSE, on a number of pilot projects to strengthen the voice of disabled people who are supported by HSE-funded services. Inclusion Ireland wants to work with the HSE so that disabled people can participate effectively in the planning and decision-making that takes place in the services that support them. We very much welcome this opportunity for disabled people.”

Speaking during a recent consultation process, some of those participating explained that “doing practical projects, and not just talking, is important if you want to make HSE services better. If you’re in an advocacy group, and you ask for something to be done, and then it gets done – that gives you a lot of confidence. Sharing different ideas in such a group helps you come up with better ideas – it can change the way you think. That’s why learning events like these are important. We want to change the way the HSE thinks about the people supported by services.”

Head of HSE Disability Services, CH CDLMS, Edel Quinn, concluded that “self-advocacy is core to ensuring that we hear the voices of people with disabilities when planning services in order to try to deliver the best services possible.”