Conference for people with intellectual, developmental disabilities will focus on leadership, advocacy

“Nothing about us without us” has been a rallying cry for disability rights advocates for more than 30 years. The phrase highlights the need for people with disabilities to participate in decisions about disability research, policy and practice.

"A man with red hair and a beard and a man with dark hair and a beard who has Down syndrome and a man with black hair and braids smile while in an embrace as they pose for a photograph"

Toward this goal, the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities and the Self-Advocacy Coalition of Kansas are working with the Heartland Self-Advocacy Network to host the SOAR Conference from Oct. 27 to 29 at the Marriott Kansas City in Overland Park.

SOAR stands for Seeking Opportunities for an Advocacy Revolution. The conference will be led by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and will bring together self-advocates from across the country to learn and grow. Disability-led sessions will focus on mentoring, training and leadership development. 

The conference also has opportunities for individuals to volunteer at the conference.

Karrie Shogren, director of Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, said it was important for KU to support efforts to center and elevate the voices of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“KUCDD is excited to partner with self-advocacy organizations to support the creation of spaces for disability advocates to come together, share information and lead the next generation of research, policy and practice,” Shogren said.

The conference will be as fully accessible as possible, with American Sign Language interpreters, captioners, personal care attendants on site and volunteers to support attendees. Registration is $100 per person, and hotel accommodations are available for $149 per night. The deadline to reserve a room at the conference rate is Oct. 6.

In addition to several sessions, the conference includes talks by three keynote speakers:

Emmanuel Jenkins, founder of the nonprofit We Stand 4 Something. Jenkins works full-time for the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council as a community relations officer, and among many regional and national service positions, he is chair of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities Self-Advocacy Committee.

Phillip McGruder, a member of the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas and a longtime Kansas City, Kansas, resident. Passionate about advocating for autism awareness and education, McGruder works with community partners to find ways to better support people with autism and their families. McGruder will serve on the Kansas Disability Caucus starting in January 2024. 

Colin Olenick, legislative liaison for the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas, where he has been employed since 2018 and is a former vice president. In his role, he tracks legislation that affects people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Kansas. Olenick also provides testimony for proposed Kansas legislation regarding Kansans with disabilities.