Self-Determination Conference
October 2 - 3, Chicago
Sylvia Caras, PhD

There’s a happy hour in the bar and after I got settled in my room, I went downstairs for bottled water and free hors d’oeuvres. There were televisions going in three corners of the room, each tuned to a different channel, and music competing with them. In the occasional quieter moments I could hear the O’Hare airplanes approaching. I got to have a long chat there with Pat Risser. And the next morning had a quiet visit with Kathryn Cohan McNulty. Both subscribers to the MADNESS list.

I had thought it would be fun to celebrate my 68th birthday here with friends and colleagues but the next day, my birthday, at breakfast there were side-bars of personality politics unrelated to this conference, and while I find my detachment and confidence increasing over the years, my resilience is weakening. I find myself saddened at what seems to me an unwillingness to work for the rising tide to carry forward all of us with psychiatric diagnoses towards a life with adequate income and a meaningful place..

The main room for the conference has a wheelchair layout, wide aisles between each row.

1/3 of US NIDRR funding goes to technology.

There are many familiar faces here. There’s a Respite Room and peer support available which seems to me makes an assumption that diminishes us. And the conference feels managed which makes for smooth flow and less rough edges and I feel like maybe some of the sparks are missing. For instance, there’s a floating process facilitator in case conversations get stuck. The conference is organized into three tracks and presenters in each track provide background for discussion. Speakers in the track to which I’ve been assigned are Pat Risser, David Oaks, Leslie Wolfe, Larry Belcher. There are 14 in our session plus the conference staff people assigned to our track, and 2/3 are people with psychiatric disabilities. We did introductions and took a minute to name our most important issues. I didn’t have the computer out to note what was said, but do remember David Oaks called for "bold action." I said mental health was part of health, psychiatric disability was part of disability, carve-out and segregation was discrimination, and human rights matter more than maximizing outcomes. Also in this track Vanessa Jackson, Laura Prescott, Andrea Schmook, Andy Imparato.

I didn’t look-in on the material produced by the other two tracks. I heard the one focusing on the individual was much in agreement, and the one focusing on the mental health system had a great deal to say.

Findings will be published in about a month.

I went on to a California statewide disability conference, as did Andy Imparato. Output from that will also be gathered and made availabe on the web. There’s definitely a theme that education of all concerned is needed, given by, not about, us, that a statewide coalition ought to be formed, and that regardless of the gubernatorial results, social services will be facing severe budget cuts.