We are assembling a team to plan for and conduct the forth annual conference on Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia. The purpose of the conference is to work with Bolivian Methodist and public schools, Methodist churches, social services agencies, and families with disabled children, to help Bolivian schools better accommodate students with disabilities.
The successful 2013 1st annual conference focused on: attitudes about people with disabilities; what are disabilities; health issues and behavior issues related to disabilities; techniques, materials and equipment that teachers can use with disabled students; accessible schools and transportation; job training for disabled graduates.
The 2014 conference built on those topics, but also had more emphasis on: coordinating and using the local (but very limited) disabilities agencies; enhancing parent advocacy; working with public schools; working with Bolivian teacher colleges to introduce upcoming teachers to the issues of children with disabilities; early intervention and assessment; funding; and having the conference more jointly planned and implemented with our peers in Bolivia.
The 2015 conference was a success. This was the first time there were an equal number of Bolivian and U.S. speakers. The most powerful session was when families were given the opportunity to share their stories. Many brave moms spoke about the challenges they faced when advocating for their children. The support they received and were able to give other moms in the audience was beautiful. The team felt honored these women felt safe enough to share their stories. During the second week of our stay, team members were given a list of 23 agencies in Santa Cruz that work with children with disabilities. The team was very excited to find so many agencies and were able to visit a few of them. The team is hoping to invite representatives of the agencies to participate in next year’s conference.
The 2016 conference had the highest attendance rate yet because the local Bolivian planning team did an excellent job of advertising. The team made changes that made the registration process smoother and each participant received a credential tag to show they were part of the conference. The team was excited by the number of agencies that presented at the conference (only five out of fourteen sessions were given by U.S. presenters). Dr. Gretel Silvestre from the Dominican Republic presented each day about how her country began the process of including students with disabilities in the educational setting. Conference attendees were very engaged during her presentations and asked many questions! The school the team works closely with has hired an adult with disabilities to help care for school grounds. The team feels this trip was very successful and look forward to integrating new technology and social media to make next year's conference even better!