On20th and 21st of June, the World Federation of the Deafblind (WFDB) held its 5th General Assembly in Benidorm, Spain. Together with Murielle Bertrand, I had the pleasure to attend the GA. While the delegates from 36 countries will stay here to go through a number of thematic workshops over the next five days, it is time for me to go back to Brussels and to share some impressions from the General Assembly with you. Interesting to note that this was my first WFDB meeting and the first-ever meeting where the majority of participants were people with Deafblindness.
Without going through the technical details of the GA which focussed very much on statutory matters, all deliberations were really interesting to observe, as they revealed a number of features to me. Firstly, I had never gone through a meeting – and most of you know I am used to attend many of them – where so many different formats and languages were in use! Between Sign Language, Tactile Sign, Braille in addition to all the different spoken World languages, you can imagine the mix of communication in the room. This made the proceedings of the GA very special: Things had to be slowed down, sometimes repeated, but, most importantly, at the end of the day, they got done!
Also wirth sharing with you that WFDB, while in its 17th year of existence, is mostly based on volunteers serving e.g. on its Executive Committee. Similarly, there is no permanent secretariat supporting its activities. All of us who often attend and organise meetings will know how much work it takes to prepare all the documents, reports, voting lists etc. Just then imagine the task of organising a global meeting without such permanent support! Amazing the way that WFDB managed to do all of that, but obviously it is not without its challenges.
Last observation from my side: From the conversations I had and from the atmosfere in the room, I could sense that WFDB members, at least at the global level, seem to have few opportunities to meet between GAs. In comparison to e.g. the World Blind Union that I am more familiar with, people in the room seemed less connected to each other/which is certainly due to the lack of opportunities to gather on a regular basis. But I could feel a great appetite to increase the number of exchanges and encounters, in order to learn from each other and to improve the quality of life of persons who are Deafblind, which is WFDB’s core mandate.
Many connections and partnerships do already exist for CBM: WFDB is member of the International Disability Alliance, has strong ties with the World Blind Union and the World Federation of the Deaf. Also strong linkages to Deafblind International and to the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment are in place. With all those relationships in existence, I feel very much encouraged that CBM can further support the rights of people who are Deafblind in the future.