Valencia in Spain was the location for one of the largest gatherings of Independent Living activists in many years. Organised by the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL), delegates from 14 countries met for 3 days between the 2nd and 4th November 2006 to discuss a whole range of issues regarding independent living. In this short series of articles we hope to give you a flavour of some of the issues that were discussed and encourage you to get involved in future events that are planned in 2007
Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and will play host to the America’s Cup in June 2007. Valencia is a city of two halves with a beautiful ‘old’ town and a more modern commercial area. Between these two areas, a grand and imposing City of Arts and Sciences has been designed by Santiago Calatrava which comprises of an IMAX cinema, science museum, a large oceanarium and a new opera house reminiscent of Sydney Opera House.
The conference was entitled ‘CIL = Empowering: We Make The Change’ and several influential speakers from the Independent Living movement spoke, including Adolf Ratzka and Colin Barnes. The meeting was opened by Alicia de Miguel from the Ministry of Welfare of the Valencian Regional Government who was instrumental in securing a Secretariat office for ENIL in Valencia for the next year. Alicia de Miguel confirmed the Valencian Regional Government’s commitment to the independent living philosophy and hoped to work with ENIL to promote this cause.
John Evans, the President of ENIL, welcomed the setting up of the Secretariat in Valencia and said ‘For the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), the main aim of this meeting is enhancing the European CILs’ network, in order to find common strategies to develop Independent Living and to strengthen the IL movement in Europe. That’s why ENIL has brought together those IL activists working in CILs from all over Europe: to exchange ideas, experiences, and good practice. It is necessary to strengthen our links now when the Commission is keen on supporting and developing community living based alternatives and Independent Living as an alternative to institutions. It is also good at the moment to be united when many EU member states are cutting back the resources supporting disabled people led organisations.’
Representatives from ULOBA, based in Norway, presented a new book that they had commissioned called ‘Folk’. This book contains strong images of Disabled People along with quotes from people committed to human rights for all
You can see a preview of the book here
Javier Romanach who is the Co-Founder of the Independent Living forum in Spain, introduced a new concept that they are working on in Spain for ‘Functional Diversity’. ‘Functional Diversity’ is a different way of looking at the issue of impairment. There are a range of aspects to the way people function. These include Aesthetic, Physical, Sensory, Social, Emotional, Cognitive and Spiritual. Each of us have a different capacity to function in each of these aspects, for example, an athlete or dancer may have a very high physical capacity but an average cognitive capacity. A scientist may be the opposite. Similarly a person labelled as having impairment may have low capacity in a certain aspect but high capacity in another aspect of function. Functional diversity is therefore a way of thinking that takes away the boxes of “impaired” and “normal”. It allows all people to share in the complex array of human function and benefit from their strengths.
Javier’s presentation raised a number of issues. Some delegates thought that the concept was putting the focus back on the individual rather than concentrating on changing society. Other delegates voiced the concern that it was harking back to the days where people argued that everyone has a ‘disability’ in one way or another. This of course denies the impact that society’s reaction to an impairment has on whether a person is labelled as ‘disabled’ or not and thus discriminated against.
This discussion illustrated very well the very different cultural backgrounds the countries represented came from. Throughout the three days, there was much discussion around language – functional diversity vs. impairment, citizens vs. users, Disabled People vs. People with Disabilities. Despite many common themes developing throughout the three days, the language of the Disability movement remains a highly debatable issue.
More news from Valencia can be found here