Hear our Voices

Many of us take self-advocacy for granted. We speak out, voice concerns, share our needs and fight for our rights, and have since we were kids. Yet people with developmental disabilities are rarely taught or given the space to pick up on the communication and negotiation skills needed to self-advocate. In part it’s because society ignores their needs and wants, and because even well-meaning caregivers teach them not to expect too much.

Enter Hear Our Voices. Since 2018, this monthly virtual self-advocacy group — part of Westchester Institute of Human Development’s Community Support Network — does just that. It gives people with developmental disabilities the tools they need to help achieve their goals in areas ranging from employment and housing to community integration, and also serves as an opportunity to develop and grow social connections.

Hear our voicesNow, Hear Our Voices is expanding its reach with its first-ever statewide Self-Advocates Conference, open to anyone interested in self-advocacy as well as their allies.

“It’s important to make Hear Our Voices a statewide [group] because there aren’t a lot of self-advocates out there,” says Brendan Klein, president of Hear Our Voices and coordinator of Self Advocacy & Community Engagement at WIHD. “We want to change that.”

The free, virtual event, which is also being run by people with disabilities, will feature speakers with disabilities in each session. The topics range from neurodivergent-friendly mental health and eating disorder care, to highlighting non-verbal voices and an exploration of supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship. Klein says they’re aiming for some 300 participants, including some state legislatures.

The keynote presentation, “Tell Your Story to Be a Change Agent,” is being given by BJ Stasio, a disability rights advocate from Buffalo who’s co-vice president of the Board of Directors of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS); and Chester Finn, a nationally recognized disability advocate who’s special assistant with OPWD who had been appointed by former U.S. President Barack Obama to serve two terms on the board of the National Council on Disability (NCD).

The goal, says Klein, is to grow and learn together.

“In the end, we hope more people will join Hear Our Voices,” says Klein. “If they’d like to join the team, we’d love to have them!”


When: Thursday, May 16, 2024

Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Register here

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