Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) was thrilled with the reception and attendance at our annual disability advocacy conference on May 2. We were honored to welcome a diverse group including people with disabilities, family members, caregivers, friends, allies, and other disability rights advocates to our sold-out event. DRNC invited the community to help us envision an integrated future and were so pleased to see it embodied at our event. 

With the generous support of our sponsors, DRNC gathered 36 partner organizations, provided more than 30 needs-based scholarships, and brought together 285 attendees from across North Carolina! Participants represented multiple intersecting identities, including 34% who identify as a person with a disability, 31% as a caregiver of a person with a disability, and 76% as a disability advocacy professional. 

Our conference theme this year was Stronger Together in NC. The pandemic forced us to spend much time apart these past few years, which was especially challenging for many people with disabilities. Isolation undermines collective liberation, and we truly are more effective and powerful when we can work collaboratively. 

Amplifying the voices of people with disabilities and bringing together the disability advocacy community is an important priority for DRNC. Often those most impacted are not present in spaces where disability policy is created. Our conference offered a unique opportunity to hear from people across this diverse community and center people with lived experience. 

Our plenary interview featured Marlene Sallo, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and Virginia Knowlton Marcus, DRNC’s CEO. They inspired our audience and reminded us to always consider the whole person and their intersectional identities when carrying out our advocacy work.

Marlene Sallo is recognized as the first woman, first Latina, and first person with a disability to lead the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) as its as executive director. She believes that understanding where disability intersects with other identities such as LGBTQIA+, non-native English speakers, and Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color is a critical component of successful advocacy. She said that the throughline of her work has been her steadfast commitment to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. DRNC was honored to have Marlene speak at our conference. 

The breakout sessions featured a range of important areas of disability advocacy including information about the rights of students with disabilities, assistance animals, the work of our rep payee team to prevent exploitation and abuse, our campaign to end solitary confinement in NC, employment rights, and many other critical topics. Be sure to check out our complete DRNC Conference 2023 Materials. Participants brought a lot of energy to the room during the ‘Infusing Trauma-Informed Ideals into our Advocacy Work’ session that was led by Kishona Mimms, a supervising investigator at DRNC, and we were impressed with how engaged people were, especially so late in the afternoon!

Another highlight of the afternoon was the delicious ice cream provided by Howdy Homemade ice-cream in Cary. Here is their inspiring story: Our Story | Howdy Homemade Ice Cream | Amazing Ice Cream Served by Amazing People.

DRNC was reinvigorated by your enthusiasm and commitment to do the work with us. During the closing session, we invited participants to share how they were inspired to continue advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. Some of the ways participants plan to keep moving forward include: continue to share the existence of the registry of unmet needs with people who have no idea of the challenges, partner with individual and organizations to make a positive difference, help generate support to end solitary confinement in my community, continue to learn innovative ways to help people live as independently as possible, and many more! 

Thank you for this incredible opportunity to connect with so many amazing advocates in our community. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your time, energy, and perspectives with us. We are inspired and energized by your dedication to your work and your interest in partnering with DRNC to move our critical mission forward. We welcome your enthusiasm about DRNC and our work, and greatly appreciate your support! 

To see more information about our conference, including photos, the plenary video, materials from the breakout sessions, and more, please visit this link 2023 Disability Advocacy Conference.

Stay tuned for information about our next annual disability advocacy conference Spring 2024. We look forward to working with you!