Children with intellectual disabilities at heart of major European conference

PRESS RELEASE: Brussels, 21 May 2014

An intellectual difficulty is not a loving difficulty. The touching words of a parent with an intellectual disability perfectly summarized Inclusion Europe’s 2014 Europe in Action Conference. Entitled Growing up with an intellectual disability, this year’s international conference, which took place in Belfast on 15-17 May, discussed the unique challenges and opportunities of bringing up children with disabilities, and offered resources for parents with or without disabilities themselves.

Co-organized with Mencap, the leading voice of intellectual disability in the United Kingdom, the conference gathered more than 240 participants from 23 countries in Europe and beyond, 40% of whom were people with intellectual disabilities who advocate for their own rights.

“Europe in Action is always an exciting, meaningful and diverse event because it attracts people from across Europe with different experiences of life to discuss policies and practices that can improve the quality of life for people with a learning disability and their families,” said Maureen Piggot, president of Inclusion Europe.

The accessible conference provided a perfect opportunity to debate issues important in the lives of people with disabilities, their families and carers. Delegates agreed that children with disabilities should be supported and encouraged to meaningfully participate in their communities, be it in decision-making, school or leisure activities. They emphasized how people, even those with severe or multiple disabilities, can and want to make decisions regarding their own lives. Participants also underlined how crucial community-based services, including early intervention and respite care, were for both people with intellectual disabilities and for their families.

Europe in Action guests also had the opportunity to join practical sessions, such as tag rugby, sensory story-telling or film club. A large number of presentations were fully accessible, while red and yellow cards were used to draw the attention of the speakers, and prompt them to stop or slow down.

With self-advocates leading sessions, but also delivering impromptu music and dance recitals, the conference was both inspiring and entertaining. It proved once more that people with intellectual disabilities can rise up to any challenge, and that the focus should always be on ability, not disability.

“The experience of having an intellectual disability is much the same the world over,” said Roy McConkey, a plenary speaker. Therefore, Europe in Action participants and organizers are advocating to ensure support is in place to make this experience as positive and enriching as possible.

The 2014 Europe in Action conference site can be accessed here. For more information, please contact Silvana Enculescu, Inclusion Europe Communications Officer, at