Road to Rights: Disability Wales Annual Conference 2022 in review

Disability Wales 50th anniversary logo with the numbers 50 in orange/gold colours. The words 'years' and 'mlynedd' curve around the bottom edge of the number 0. The organisation name is in English and Welsh on the right hand side of the numbers.

It finally happened! After months of planning, our Annual Conference and AGM took place in October.

This was our first hybrid event in three years and we delighted in having so many members joining us in-person and online from across Wales.

The day focused on the theme of Road to Rights as we celebrated the invaluable contributions of disability rights activists and campaigners over the past 50 years.

Chaired by broadcaster, journalist, actor and musician, as well as an expert in the field of access and inclusion for disabled people, Mik Scarlet, the day inevitably started in a fun and lively way. The beauty of hybrid working meant that Mik could guide us through the day virtually, introducing discussions such as the Road to Rights panel, presentations about disabled people in public life and an address by Wales First Minister, Mark Drakeford. 


Across five decades, Disability Wales has been at the forefront of disability rights activism, representing the views of members to government, coordinating campaigns, and supporting Disabled People’s Organisations.

Established in 1972 as Wales Council for the Disabled, it was renamed Disability Wales in 1994 to reflect changing attitudes within society and the aspirations of disabled people.

The Rights Now Campaign for fully comprehensive and civil rights legislation was at its height, actively supported by DW, and which culminated in the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).

Our Annual Conference provided an opportunity to reflect on the Road to Rights and examine what has been achieved to date, as well as what still needs to be done.

Some of DW’s achievements in responding to the changing social and economic landscape regarding disabled people were highlighted in a video that was shown on the day. Consider it a whistle-stop tour of the past 50 years which you can now watch on our YouTube channel.


Opening speeches by Mik Scarlet and DW Chief Executive, Rhian Davies, set the tone for the day by highlighting the importance of the Social Model of Disability and reflecting on where we are now in terms of our rights and equality. 

Despite many achievements and passionate campaigning “we haven’t necessarily made the progress we would like to see,” said Rhian Davies.

These reflections were echoed in our Road to Rights panel in which we heard sharing of stories between experienced activists and those who are emerging onto the scene as they all examined the state of disabled people’s rights in Wales today.

Road to Rights panel members sitting by a long table. From left to right: Joshua Reeves, Andrea Gordon, Graham Findlay and Rhian Davies.
Road to Rights panel of Disability Rights activists; Rhian Davies, Graham Findlay, Andrea Gordon and Joshua Reeves.
Photo credit: Hazel Hannant

Experienced activists, Rhian Davies, Graham Findlay and Andrea Gordon shared memories of their time campaigning on the streets of Cardiff and London whilst emerging activist, Joshua Reeves, highlighted the key role social media plays in his campaigning work. 

Considering the state of our rights, Andrea said; “I am really worried that we are on the road to rights, we are still on the road, but it’s definitely going uphill, it’s definitely a climb now.”

She went on to stress the fact that “action is needed” to keep moving forward. 

The afternoon session highlighted the need for more disabled people in public life, including in senior roles, to ensure greater involvement in decisions that affect us. 

The High Sherif of South Glamorgan, Rosie Moriarty Simmonds OBE addressing the DW conference audience. DW staff member, Alex Osborne, sits behind her with a laptop that controls the slides shown on screen behind the High Sherif.
The High Sheriff of South Glamorgan, Rosaleen Moriarty Simmonds OBE.
Photo credit: Hazel Hannant

The High Sheriff of South Glamorgan, Rosaleen Moriarty Simmonds OBE, shared her experiences in being appointed to such a high-profile role, telling the audience; ‘I’m the first person who was born disabled to be assigned this royal appointment ever in the history of the shrievalty, but I hope I won’t be the last.’ 

We also heard from participants involved in two DW projects aimed at tackling barriers that prevent disabled people from standing for political office and apply for obtaining Board and other roles in public life – the Access to Elected Office Fund and Equal Power Equal Voice (EPEV) Mentoring Programme.

“Disabled isn’t a dirty word” was one of the key messages by EPEV mentee turned mentor, Dee Montague, who spoke openly about her experience with imposter syndrome. 

Last but not least on the agenda was a keynote speech by Wales First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS.

Wales First Minister, Mark Drakeford, standing behind a lectern. His name is on a big screen behind him above the words 'Liberating disabled people's lives and rights in Wales.' DW Chief Executive, Rhian Davies, sits behind a table to the First Minister's right. They're both smiling.
Wales First Minister, Mark Drakeford and Disability Wales Chief Executive, Rhian Davies.
Photo credit: Hazel Hannant

The First Minister outlined how Welsh Government is progressing disabled people’s rights and equality in Wales following a commitment to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRDP) into Welsh law, and the establishment of the Disability Rights Taskforce which exists to oversee the development of an action plan to roll back the damaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on disabled people.

Speaking on the key partnership between DW and the Welsh Government over the years, the First Minister said: “I want to reaffirm today the commitment of the Welsh government… to the social model of disability and to the ongoing efforts that have to be made… to spreading an understanding of what we mean by the social model and not just an understanding of it but that we make that additional effort to ensure that from understanding comes real action that makes a difference.”

It was so refreshing to hear our First Minister speaking with insight about the Social Model, co-production and that all-important word – liberation.

 We’re looking forward to continuing our work on the Disability Rights Taskforce and seeing the Social Model being embedded across Welsh Government.


Nestled in the day’s events was our 36th Annual General Meeting. 

The meeting began with a tribute to the memory of former DW Board Members, Simon Green and Judith Pennington and former Chair of Arfon Access Group and longstanding DW ally, Vin West. A moment’s silence was held for these committed activists and the many Disability Wales members who sadly passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Featuring on the meeting agenda were Board appointments. We are delighted to welcome Zanet Papadamaki to our Board of Directors. Based in North Wales, Zanet joins us from the Autistic Women’s Empowerment Project following a successful nomination to the Board. 

Willow Holloway has been appointed as Chairperson following several years of being Vice Chairperson. On her re-election to the Board, Anne Champ is now Vice Chairperson and Kelvin Jones is taking the reins as Treasurer

We’re sad to be saying farewell to John Gladston who has stepped down from our Board of Directors. We’d like to thank John for his invaluable contributions to our Board over the past few years, particularly in acting as our resident Health and Safety expert. We wish him all the best moving forward. 


Lastly, we’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all those who joined us on the day, whether it be in-person or online. 

Disability Wales 50th anniversary cupcakes. They have white icing with the DW blue and orange 50th anniversary logo on them.

It was energising to hear so many conversations about disability rights and equality happening under one roof. An opportunity to reconnect with fellow disabled people after years living under restrictions was a joy and even more so to see it happening under the banner of our 50th anniversary. 

Discussions extended beyond the room, too. Social media was brimming with posts as guests joined us in tweeting about the day’s events and comments on our livestream were also coming in thick and fast. 

It was wonderful to see so many people engaging with us and we hope this sets an example that hybrid is the way forward. If you weren’t able to be there on the day, you can catch up now on YouTube. 

Until next year!

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