September 8th through the 10th, 2016: Three days, 30 panels, and dozens of speeches. The 2016 Self-Advocacy Association of New York State Self-Advocacy Conference was the high point in a year of amazing self-advocacy. It was the biggest SANYS conference ever, and AHRC New York City’s participation was the highest it has ever been. Five self-advocates supported by AHRC NYC spoke on conference panels on topics such as supported decision making, youth issues, and speaking to legislators.

AHRC NYC’s Department of Individualized Supports, Day ServicesCamping and Recreational Services, Employment and Business Services, and Residential Services collectively supported over 50 self-advocates who attended the conference. A special shout-out goes to the AHRC New York City Foundation, which provided scholarships for nine of these individuals through the Department of Individualized Supports. In fact, AHRC NYC provided more financial support for self-advocates attending the conference than any other organization in the state, and it was truly a cross-departmental endeavor.

Kristin Thatcher, Employment Skills Coordinator with EBS Staten Island and a self-advocate, spoke on three panels, which is the most any single person could speak on. Evan YankeySANYS Regional Coordinator for New York City, said he could not remember anyone speaking on more panels.

For the self-advocates, the conference was both empowering and fun. “It was beautiful. I love coming to the statewide conference every year,” said Vanessa Mills , a self-advocate who receives services through Kings Highway Day Servcies. “What I love about the conference is that all the staff that go with us, they support us going to our meetings. I gave my ideas to the chancellor [of OPWDD] at a meeting.

Victor Carrion, a self-advocate supported through EBS Brooklyn, attended the conference for the first time, but hopefully not the last. “I enjoyed it–taking part in the workshops, speaking to different people. I hope I go again because I really enjoyed myself.