The 29th Annual NJ Statewide Self-Advocacy Conference

On October 13th, 2012, 14 self-advocates from Community Access Unlimited and the New American Movement attended the Annual Self-Advocacy conference in Somerset, New Jersey. The event attracted over 300 self-advocates from across the state of New Jersey for a morning filled of workshops and an afternoon full of dancing.

Sponsored by The Arc of New Jersey, the morning started off with breakfast and introductions from noteworthy self-advocates. One of Community Access’ own, Sid Katz, was recognized in the morning for his commitment to advocacy and his continued leadership, both as President of the self-advocacy group Helping Hands, and as our regions SABE representative. Next, Thomas Bafutto, President of the Arc of New Jersey, energized the attendees prior to breaking off into two morning workshops.

All of the workshops at the NJ Statewide Self-Advocacy conference were written by and for self-advocates. Although Community Access Unlimited only attended two workshops that Saturday, self-advocates left the conference confident and renewed in their commitment to advocacy on behalf of the disability community.

Community Access Unlimited developed an anti-bullying workshop, presented by Self-Advocates Mark Bloom and Sid Katz, with assistance from Gillian Speiser. The anti-bullying workshop, entitled, “Anti-Bullying: How Can I Stand Up for Myself?” opened by going around the room and expressing how bullying has impacted the lives of self-advocates. Self-advocates evoked words such as “unimportant, cruel, sad, angry” when describing their experiences. Katz and Bloom the continued the presentation exploring the different types of bullying (verbal, physical, cyber, and mobbing) and examples of each. Going around the room, it was clear that each individual had a personal experience with bullying and were eager to learn how to manage and cope with it. Self-advocates learned of resources they could turn to for each bullying circumstance, as well as the importance of a strong personal support system such as friends and family.

Likewise, the President of the Arc of New Jersey, Thomas Baffuto, presented a workshop entitled “How Can I Be a Better Advocate?” which emphasized the importance of self-advocates in the political process. The workshop taught advocates how to find and contact their local and federal representatives, how to write a letter, and how to take part in action alerts for issues that directly affect the disability community. The self-advocates had many questions regarding voting and the break-down of local representatives and Mr. Baffuto was enthusiastic and thorough in answering the self-advocates’ concerns.

The conference concluded with honoring additional self-advocates for their commitment to self-advocacy. Community Access Unlimited self-advocates Sidney Katz, Gary Rubin, and Myrta Rosa were all honored during lunch. The three honorees – Katz, Rubin and Rosa – were both surprised and delighted to receive such a large recognition amongst their peers.

After the formalities of lunch, the self-advocacy conference broke out into dessert and dance, where advocates celebrated their achievements, reconnected with old friends and rejuvenated their passion for advocacy.

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