Between the 21st and 23rd of September, ENIL held online the Freedom Surf conference, which replaced our usual flagship event of the Freedom Drive, that was postponed due to COVID-19 and the restrictions surrounding the pandemic. We had numerous events each day, such as meeting with ENIL and ENIL Youth Network boards, workshops, and interesting discussions with members.

To focus in on a few highlights on the first day, for the first event we had a summary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they may tie into the UNCRPD, followed by a panel discussion about the UNCRPD, its Committee and Secretariat and shadow reports. The importance of interacting with the CRPD Committee was stressed. We also got to hear about DPAC’s request to open an inquiry under the Optional Protocol, which was the first in the world to the Committee of the CRPD. The second event of the day was dedicated to the Independent Living Research Network, where we had the opportunity to learn about it, and to hear from researchers, about their own research or research they are involved in. The day ended with the virtual meetings of our members with the ENIL and ENIL Youth Network board representatives, who shared their work, and discussed about future plans.

The second day started with a workshop on how social media and storytelling techniques can contribute in the promotion of independent living. The workshop was facilitated by Michael Goossens, our Human Rights Officer, and involved also the members of the Disabled Refugees Welcome, who shared their project ‘We want our voices to be heard!’. The second workshop of the day was co-organised with our Hungarian friends Freekey, and the topic was how to get started, organise and lobby for Personal Assistance, with examples from Albania, Greece, Hungary and Slovenia. The event will be also remembered by the passionate participation of late Kapka Panayotova, who spoke about the issues in Bulgaria and gave lessons with her messages to the younger generation. The day finished with the celebratory session co-hosted with our Norwegian member ULOBA, on the occasion of their 30th anniversary. We heard from ULOBA’s Secretary-General Vibeke Marøy Melstrøm, who talked about how in the early days ULOBA’s key focus was trying to introduce a personal assistance programme to Norway. We also heard from two ULOBA youth representatives, Henriette Nielsen and Pia Solstråle Istad, who spoke about ULOBA’s youth projects and the summer school for disabled people in Norway (Camp Freedom).

Finally, in terms of the highlights of the Freedom Surf, on the third day we had a session about the monitoring of article 19 of the UNCRPD. Amalia Gamio Rios, the vice-chair of the UNCRPD Committee was in attendance as a panellist and spoke about the importance of article 19 when it comes to the liberation of disabled people the world over.  We also heard from Prof. Gerard Quinn, the UN Special Rapporteur for the rights of disabled people, who talked about how to start putting concrete steps in place to ensure that independent living was actually achieved. In the second half of the session, we also heard from Robert-Jan Uhl, the policy officer of the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) who talked about policy papers the FRA had published relating to the implementation of article 19 and indicators of what activists and states could use to ensure its implementation. Finally, we had a co-presentation by Jamie Bolling and Mari Sillisu both from the Independent Living Institute (ILI) from Sweden, about their ongoing article 19 project. The day and the Freedom Surf ended with a lively discussion of the World Independent Living Network, with representatives from East Asia (Japan and South Korea), South Asia (Pakistan), North America (the US) and Europe.

It was a packed three days, and despite the disappointment of not being able to do it in person, it was a good way to bring people together. We also had great accompanying music from the UK disabled activist and artist Mx. Dennis Queen, who we would like to thank once again.

You can watch all the Freedom Surf sessions, and listen to the songs of Mx. Dennis Queen on our YouTube channel here.

Thank you all for joining and see you next year at the Freedom Drive in Brussels!