Self-Determination Conference

Self-determination Conference

Self-determination Conference

Wisconsin Dells is a place of many memories for me. I spent at least one week a summer there for many years attending Camp Wawbeek. Last year I decided not to return to camp, it was just time to move on to new ventures. One of those new ventures happens to also bring me back to Wisconsin Dells. The Self-Determination Conference is help every October at the Kalahari Resort in Lake Delton, WI. Last year I attended as a vendor, promoting my blog. This year, I decided to go as a participant.

What is Self-Determination

Stay focused and stay determined. Don’t look to anyone else to be your determination – have self-determination. It will take you very far. ~Justice Smith

What exactly is self-determination? Basically, self-determination is the decision and actions an individual takes to control one’s life. Is it possible for an individual with a disability to be self-determined? Absolutely. Having control over one’s life does not mean you have to do everything independently. After attending this year’s conference, I am more determined than ever to be self-determined and to always be self-determined.

self-determination conference

Self-Determination Conference

Every October the Wisconsin Board of Persons with Developmental Disabilities holds a 2-3 day Self-Determination Conference for individuals with disabilities. Families of individuals with disabilities and professionals who work in the field of disabilities are also welcome to attend.

Last year I really enjoyed being a vendor. However, I felt like I was missing out on so much of the conference. So this year I went as a participant. This allowed me to choose breakout sessions to attend, listen to keynote speakers and other participate in other activities.

Keynote Speaker: Micah Fialka-Feidman

This year I was so inspired by the keynote speakers. Micah Fialka-Feidman kicked off the conference with his inspirational life story. Micah has an intellectual disability. However, he never let that stop him from achieving his goals of going to college, moving into his own apartment and being independent.

There was one piece of Micah’s story that stuck with me and always will. When he was 11, he saw a piece of mail on the table. On it was his IQ score of 40. He did not know what that meant so he googled it. Let that sink in… If you do not know why this is so inspiring, google the limitations imposed on an individual with an IQ of 40. Thankfully, no one in Micah’s support system set those limitations or informed him of those limitations.

There were obstacles and those who wanted to place limitations on Micah, like the Oakland University. Micah and his support system never stopped until his goals were met. Currently, Micah co-teaches at the Syracuse University School of Education. I had the opportunity to meet Micah and his mom, Janice. They are both amazing people. To learn more about Micah, click here to check out his website.

Janice Fialka, Micah’s mom, also spoke. I know my mom was so inspired by her. We both attended a breakout session with Janice and Micah, which I will talk about later. Honestly, Micah and Janice were worth the expense and the trip alone! Click here to check out Janice’s site.

Keynote Speakers: Self-Determination You Tube Channel

One Wednesday morning, the keynote speakers were the creators of the Self-Determination You Tube Channel.

I had the privilege of working with this team in the You Tube pre-conference workshop. I had a blast in helping to make the video which was presented on Wednesday morning. Check it out!

Cindy Bentley, one of the creators of the You Tube Channel, was in several of my breakout sessions. Her energy is simply amazing. She shared a part of her story in one session. Cindy was institutionalized earlier in her life, simply because she has an intellectual disability. Now she is a You Tube star in the making! Her drive to be self-determined is so inspirational. However, it is her light that draws you in.

Whether you have a disability or know someone who has a disability, I think subscribing to this channel will be inspiring and uplifting.


The conference is centered around small break out sessions. Presenters from all over address issues, technologies and services. My personal favorite session was with Micah and his mom, Janice. The session was titled Circles of Support. We had originally selected Healthy Me Through Technology. However, after Micah and Janice’s keynote speech, I just had to check this out.

Switching was the right decision! Circles of support are essential for a self-determined life. I discovered that although I have great support, my circle is lacking in several areas. Janice and Micah did an incredible job of providing the information and tools to create a strong, life-long circle of support. My only wish is for there to be a Circles of Support 2 session. There is just so much to learn!

Some of the sessions were informative, but not as in depth as I would have liked them to be. One session we were really looking forward to is the Guardianship and Consent session. My mom and I have been talking quite a bit about my future, especially my future in the event of her passing. We have made some initial plans, but still need to work on them. We were hoping this would steer us in the right direction. This session fell short in my expectations. However, we did get enough information to know what to avoid so I can live the self-determined life I deserve.

Self-determination Conference

Main dining room with vendors in the back.


Vendors are a big part of every conference. Many of the vendors are agencies which assist individuals with a self-determined life. However, there are many micro-businesses in the main dining area. Although the agencies give away cool swag and great information, the micro businesses are my favorite. The businesses are run mostly by individuals with disabilities.

The micro-businesses range from soaps to artwork. At the end of the conference many of the vendors donate items for door prizes. I won a signed copy of the book, Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope by Katherine Perreth. The book tells the story of Ben whose life changed at the age of 7 after a brain hemorrhage.

Speaking of the door prizes, they are worth staying to the very end of the conference. There was artwork, gift cards, baskets and a handful of Kindle Fires handed out! You have to be present to win, so I advise planning on staying to the end.

Conference Advice

There are pieces of advice I would like to give about attending the Self-Determination Conference. We learned so much this year that we wish we knew last year.

My My first piece of advice is to go as a participant your first year. I missed so much of the conference going as a vendor. The sessions and the bonding that take place in the sessions is so valuable. Vending is great, but to get the true essence of the conference, being a participant is the best way to go.

Go on Monday. If possible make this a 3 day adventure. This gives you a chance to settle into your hotel and take advantage of the pre-conference activities. This year we had pizza and watched the documentary Intelligent Lives, which featured Micah Fialka-Feidman. After dinner there was a scavenger hunt. We did skip the hunt because…well…I am a Packer Fan! However, the movie made the extra day worth it.

If you are not planning on using the waterparks at the Kalahari and don’t mind a short drive in the morning, get a hotel room off the resort. It is cheaper and less hectic. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lake Delton. It was super close and easy to get to the resort. Additionally, the free breakfast is so much better than the conference food! We loved this hotel and will do a review on it in a later blog.

Bring a notebook for phone numbers and email addresses. We got so many business cards, but in the packing and unpacking, we lost a few. Also, You meet so many inspiring people, it is nice to have their information to stay in touch.

Apply for the scholarship or look for a sponsorship to cover the expenses. The conference is so worth the expense, but add in the hotel and travel it is hard to afford on a small budget. We did not know until we had already paid for everything that IRIS pays for the Self-Determination Conference! They do not pay for hotel expenses but it could cut your expenses in half! They also pay for a caregiver to go! You have a year to save or come up with creative ways to earn money. In total, the trip was about $500 for my mom and I. That is about $42 a month in savings or earnings for 2 people to attend.

Self-determination Conference

Won a Signed Copy of Making Lemonade With Ben!


This experience has been life changing for me. The information and inspiration I have taken from this year’s conference will forever influence my future. Meeting Micah and Cindy has inspired me to go to the next level of independence. Additionally, I am already working on developing my circle of support for a life long independence. I am already planning and preparing for next year!

Until Next Time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’

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