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Wednesday 24 Jan 2018
You are here: Home Blog Articles Immersion Event April 2013
Immersion Event April 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Avril   
Monday, 06 May 2013

Inspiration, courage, support, kindness, relationships, positivity, hope, persistence – these are just some of the words ringing in my head after being part of the Immersion Event in Killarney last week. It was a week long event to learn, reflect and work through the changes in how disability services are/will be delivered in Ireland. The focus was on how we move from delivering services in a ‘group’ way to providing ‘individualised’ support. It was run by the Federation of Voluntary Bodies and it brought together 350+ service providers, government officials, people with disabilities, family members and others interested in disability sector in one place for one week.

It was an intense week of hard work; it was a journey in itself. I came away with my eyes opened in a different way in how I can better support my son Stephen.  I have spent many years focussing on Stephen’s disability and all the negatives that come with that. After my week at Immersion, I have learnt that it is time to change my focus, to truly look at Stephen as a young man in his own right, to really think about all the gifts he brings and how we can share those gifts with those around him (family/friends/community) by building strong relationships and connections.

All the speakers at Immersion were excellent. On the first day the context was set – it is not a question if things will change, government policy is clear - things are going to change significantly and there is detailed information available in a number of government reports and strategies. (Many listed here and here).  We had seven international disability experts who helped us with information and tools on how we can do things differently. John O’Brien, Michael Kendrick, Janet Klees, Patti Scott, David Pitonyak, Hope Leet Dittmeier and Pat Fratangelo are all leaders in best practice in the disability sector across the world. Their presentations were all videoed and well worth a look at when they go up on www.fedvol.ie in the coming days.

We got lots of detailed information and heard wonderful stories. We also got practical tools and things to change immediately. One of the most useful things I learnt was how to change how I introduce Stephen, instead of saying ‘here is Stephen who has an intellectual disability and autism’, to instead say ‘here is Stephen, from Limerick who loves the outdoors, he is very musical and loves to sing, he also sometimes finds it hard to understand and can be anxious in busy places’.

The best speakers of the week for me were the people with disabilities, who through courage and persistence have changed their own lives. Many of the stories we heard were hugely inspirational, of people living in institutional care who now have their own homes, jobs, friends, etc. all the usual things we take for granted. What struck me too was their gentleness and gratefulness, no anger or bitterness for years lost in care.

We were also reminded about being good community members ourselves. We are all part of communities and sometimes with the busyness of life, many of us have forgotten how to give and be active citizens.

The highlight of the week for me was friendship- having the opportunity to chat with others in a similar situation. The challenge from Immersion is how can we get the information we learnt out to people with disabilities and their families?  If we are serious about change to better the lives of people with disabilities, we need to look at many ways of connecting people and sharing information, so that change is driven from grass roots and in the right direction for people with disabilities and their families.

Best wishes as always,


About Me

I’m Avril, married to Robert and I’m Mum to 3 kids, Stephen, Michael and Rachel. Stephen has special needs (he has a rare chromosomal disorder). We can see he has lots in common with children on the autistic spectrum and children with down syndrome. As well being a Mum, I’m an advocate/lobbyist for those with disabilities. I feel strongly about the importance of including Stephen is as many everyday activities and I have created the Off We Go! series of books to help Stephen and kids like him manage with everyday events.