Southwest Disability Conference
Last week I presented at and attended the Southwest Disability Conference which has grown in attendance and conference offerings over the years. The conference has become a nexus for issues related to disabilities and is highly consumer oriented. This year's special themes emphasized: Veteran's Returning with Disabilities; Autism and Asperger's Syndromes; At-Risk Families with Parents who have cognitive disabilities; Transition to Work for Youth with Disabilities and, of course, Brain Injury which was sponsored by the New Mexico Brain Injury Association. I attended a cross section of the available presentations and listened to speakers representing different perspectives. There was a significant Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs presence to address the needs of our soldiers returning with physical, psychological and spiritual injuries. A panel of military chaplains conducted a symposium on spiritual healing. A moving documentary by Alison Johnson: Gulf War Syndrome: Aftermath of Toxic Battlefield detailed the debilitating symptoms experienced by the First Gulf War veterans and the poor response of the Department of Defense and VA to provide assistance to these individuals. The conference itself serves to bring veterans living with disabilities together and the conference topics which dealt with injury and disability from military service became highly focused environments. The veterans in attendance spoke freely about their experiences and their realities. It was a counter-point to the presentation that represented a voice which needed to be heard.
What is so striking about the Southwest Disability Conference is the breadth of the issues and themes presented in the conference. The focus on self-help and consumerism is powerful and could serve as a model for other conferences. We have much to learn from each other and this conference is an excellent environment for learning in a level playing field where consumers and professionals can speak together. I look forward to being part of this conference next year.