Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Positive voices conference: what does self-advocacy mean to me?

After many planning meetings and phone calls, the event was happening!

The Positive Choices conference was a result of a group of us all chatting and saying that people with learning disabilities and autistic people are always asked to attend conferences, but how many of those conferences are accessible and about what we wanted to share and learn about.

The steering group was made up of self-advocates from around the country who met regularly via zoom to discuss and arrange the whole event.

All decisions regarding the event were made by the self-advocates and supported by the steering group. It was important to the group that the values of self-advocacy were maintained throughout the event planning and implementation.

The day itself had a few challenges. First, the trains were going to be on strike, then the strike was cancelled, then the minibus was late because of traffic. But it all added to the day.

Making a real differences in your local community

The day started with the most inspirational speakers, hosted by Aisha from ‘Lewisham Speaking Up’, who shared their own experiences as self-advocates with lived experiences on how they were making a real differences in their local communities.

This was followed by a session about the Peter and Friends project. This book about Covid-19 and having a learning disability and/or autism was a collaboration with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, London South Bank University and Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

Self-advocates Lloyd and Peter spoke with Steve Hardy, independent consultant nurse, about making sure that people’s voices are heard in the health system by sharing their experiences.

Up next was Dr Mark Brookes who spoke about how self-advocates could play a key part in a Dimensions project about learning disability and GP services.

We then heard from our youngest self-advocate Stephen about how having a diagnosis label does not stop him from having a life!

This was followed by a group session from Aisha and Sam from Lewisham Speaking Up, Michael from Be Mix, Danielle from Brighton and Hove, and Gary Bourlet from Learning Disability England where they shared an amazing short film about self-advocacy over the past 50 years. This will form part of the special anniversary celebrations.

There were stories of how inequalities were overcome and addressed. Also how by working together with other groups had made voices stronger and heard by the many, not just a few. Throughout the entire day one thing remained prominent: we have a strong self-advocacy movement who are all working towards the same goal, which is a fair society for all.



Lunch was provided by the fabulous, Lunch on the Run and then it was back to business with a gentle impromptu dance session with some members from Dance Syndrome.

The afternoon session was led by My Life, My Choice where we were asked to think about what it would be like to live in an assessment and treatment unit. This thought-provoking session was shared by Gina and James.

The open gallery was a welcome addition so people could share their thoughts using creativity and not just their voices.


The entire day we were running behind as the conversations were so rich and valuable that we did not want to interrupt and stifle them. At the end of the day, we asked how we would all continue what we had started and the overall response was to keep talking.



All in all, it was a wonderful day of connecting, making new and old friends, and of course, strengthening the movement.

The event finished off with the wonderful DJ Jake hosting an evening of dance and karaoke.

We are looking forward to doing it all again next year. #Selfadvocacymatters


Sarah Offley, Chief Officer, Dudley Voices for Choice

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