Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How about a major special needs conference, BlogHer?


"Greed is good" was Gordon Gekko's motto in that movie Wall Street. I'm about to go Gekko on the ladies who run the BlogHer conference...but in a good sort of way.

Last year, we had a BlogHer Birds of a Feather lunch for parents of kids with special needs. I put it together with Julia Roberts of Support for Special Needs, and about two dozen people attended. We both knew there was potential for something bigger and this year Julia got BlogHer to do a Special Needs Mini Conference, because she is amazing that way. Close to eighty of us gathered in a large room for lunch, mingling, listening, sharing, bonding, canoodling (you can read a transcript here).

I'm awed and grateful that Julia pulled this off, and I am convinced she has a double as I'm not quite sure how she managed it. I'm totally thankful to BlogHer for the support. But truth, I am not satisfied. I want more conference—and I'll bet everyone who attended would say the same.

BlogHer now offers several smaller conferences throughout the year: BlogHer Handmade, BlogHer Food, and a business one, BlogHer|bet (Business, Entrepreneur, Technology). This year, before official BlogHer started there was Pathfinder Day, a mentoring sort of program focused on growing your blog.

Surely special needs parenting bloggers could have a dedicated day at BlogHer. Surely we could have our own BlogHer conference. BlogHer Special, perhaps?

Some of you mentioned last week how helpful real-life groups have been for you. Imagine them, but on steroids. BlogHer Special. A conference with sessions, expert speakers, workshops, an expo featuring companies and nonprofits who provide services and equipment. There could be general sessions as well as ones divvied up by type of special needs. Having shrinks on hand would come in handy, but I guess we could make do with cases of wine.

It would be far easier to establish a national conference for special needs bloggers under the umbrella of BlogHer than to create one from scratch. I can think of potential sponsors. I am positive this conference would attract plenty of attendees—both parents of kids with special needs who blog as well as moms and dads who want to start blogging and need inspiration from the rest of us.

So thank you, wonderful ladies of BlogHer, for this year's mini-con. And in the immortal words of Oliver Twist (no relation to Gordon Gekko), "Please, sir, I want some more."


48 comments:

  1. I'm with you. I remember when we talked about this last year. Count me in!

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  2. Don't forget about us Dads. It would be great to see a Special Needs meetup of some sort.

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  3. What if *you* organized a special needs bloggers conference? Not that you seem to have all that much time on your hands for such things, but you're up to the task, I'm sure!

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  4. Hear, hear! I left the conference realizing that we need so much more than a few (amazing!) bloggers being the voice of special needs. We need to learn how to advocate, support each other, and just sit with people who understand.

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  5. This would be awesome! I'm in... Can't wait!!!:)

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  6. Oh, I love this idea! Still smiling over the Birds of a Feather lunch from BlogHer 2010.

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  7. I could not agree more with this idea! I would be happy to help plan and coordinate it or otherwise contribute in any way to make it a reality!

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  8. What about bloggers who have disabilities themselves??? We should get a conference too!

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  9. I totally agree! My only complaint about the mini-con was that it was too short! There were so many bloggers I wanted to talk with and didn't get a chance during that time! It was so awesome. A conference just for us? Wow!

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  10. I have never been to a BlogHer conference, but if there were one for special needs--I'd be there in a second.

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  11. Yes. Absolutely. Let's do this! I wanted more time to share stories, learn about each other, and dig into issues. I love Spaz Girl's idea of including bloggers who have disabilities themselves.

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  12. I would *totally* be in for helping to set up and organize this. No kidding, drop me a line and I'm on board!

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  13. I want it too. I brought this up on Twitter and my site and there's a huge hunger to bring us all in. I am ready and willing to put in the effort to make one happen. It would probably have to be in St. Louis or Kansas City, but I'm not kidding when I say this is important to me and I want this just as bad as you do.

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  14. I think that is a great idea! I would love to attend that!

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  15. I've never been able to afford to attend BlogHer, but if there was a specific special needs session, I would do everything in my power to be there! With two Autistic boys, bonding with parents has been one of the most valuable things to help me make it through!!

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  16. Thanks Ellen. Connection was the main goal I had when BlogHer asked what the purpose of the mini-con was. For me, for this year, it was enough. The mini-con was in part funded by Support for Special Needs.com and was promoted only by the site/myself and a few dedicated community members. I know I couldn't have handled it being larger! (whoa!)

    I'd love to see an entire day/track at BlogHer, maybe the day before BlogHer? I have a conf call with them to debrief and I will share these comments with them. I'm happy to say the feedback was overwhelmingly positive - 97% of the response on the survey was positive, which is unusually high.

    Please email me if any of you'd like to help in planning...I'd love to get a small committee together for discussion/feedback. I'm also going to start a private group on the site about it and I'll invite anyone who'd like to discuss how we, as a community, want a conference for us to work! I need input! Please email me at julia@supportforspecialneeds.com so I can send you an invite!

    Thanks everyone for the feedback to me personally with DMs, emails and on-site. I'd loved hearing stories of connection (and making connections myself) most of all.
    Many, many thanks.

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  17. I would definitely attend this conference so that I could meet colleagues face to face!

    I have a physical disability and am a Relationship Consultant to women with disabilities.

    We have a huge thriving community of people with special needs so it'd be nice to meet up!

    rulesdreamgirl.com for those interested.

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  18. I didn't attend BlogHer this year for a number of reasons, but a big reason is, as a special needs blogger, I do feel that "mommy bloggers" that aren't reviewing products or sharing recipes are under represented. I would make extra effort to attend a conference for special needs, both moms of and bloggers with.

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  19. I've never felt particularly compelled to attend a blogging conference because my readers are basically other special needs/preemie parents. I am not trying to earn income through my blog (though wouldn't that be nice), I am trying to share experiences and connect. But if there were a conference with a focus on special needs parenting, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

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  20. I would definitely love to have something like this to attend as a young adult with special needs and special needs blogger. I fully support this idea Ellen...and Julia! :)

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  21. Love, love, love the enthusiasm here! Julia, that's great you're going to do a conference call. I was going to email Jory and Elisa about this, and Shannon was also going to be saying something, so the more people whispering/shouting in their ear, the better!

    Cindy, I would DEFINITELY help organize a special needs bloggers conference if BlogHer did this. It would be too much to do an entirely separate one, unless I gave the kids away. Hmmm. Like Julia, and like many of us, I've dreamed about a special needs blogger conference since the day I started writing this blog.

    And for sure, SpazGirl and RDG, there should be a track for people with disabilities.

    I forgot to mention: There would be AWESOME possibilities here for a keynote speaker! Temple Grandin comes to mind, for starters.

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  22. I love the idea. Whether I can get away, given our current medical issues, remains to be seen. Can we include video feeds, or video tape for playing later?

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  23. I am all for this. I especially want to support the idea of including persons with disabilities, as well as fathers, rather than splitting them into separate gatherings. At this particular time, we need to be building larger communities, not spinning them off.

    BlogHer provides a very strong organization with a lot of credibility and a great deal of traffic. As Julia showed with the Mini-Conference, it's the perfect venue for growing something like this.

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  24. I'm all in for a full day before BlogHer for connecting with special needs folks. What an awesome idea, Julia. As a single mom, I am going to be fortunate enough to get one shot at a conference in a year - and since I blog special needs and photography and single moms, I love the idea of being able to connect with all those groups at BlogHer. (Besides, I heart NYC!) This year was totally overwhelming for me, but you can guess that I've already sorted things in my head and am looking forward to next year.

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  25. Well said, Rob. Special needs is a sprawling community, and whatever way we can do to create a unified gathering would be awesome. I do think it would be great to dedicate one part of the day (or conference—I dream!) with sessions for specific special needs.

    And Janet, yes, there could be video for people who couldn't attend. So many awesome possibilities here.

    Hey, how come nobody's mentioned the cases of wine suggestion? :)

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  26. I would love to go! I need to start arranging for babysitting NOW. :)

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  27. A whole-day conference the day before? That's one idea. Here are the deets for BlogHer 12

    What: BlogHer ’12, BlogHer’s 8th Annual Conference
    Who: The BlogHer community, Fortune 500 brands and leading industry speakers
    When: August 2-4, 2012
    Where: The Hilton Hotel in New York City, 1335 Avenue of the Americas

    press release.

    Another sound idea is to ask BlogHer (as a company with great strengths in conference organization) to organize a conference in a locale less expensive than NYC, as you mentioned.

    And Josh, just because it says BlogHer doesn't mean that men are excluded (as they aren't excluded at BlogHer, or the smaller conferences). BlogHer just means that the women create the programming and dominate the audience.

    I think it is really important to have a cross-disability conference focused on social change.

    I also think it is important to attract and encourage adults with disabilities to present and attend.

    I've been to a Wrightslaw one day conference and that was also empowering in the sense of being with people who were struggling to make the most of education for their special-needs children.

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  28. I'm in. Thinking Person's Guide to Autism is in (though I have yet to inform the rest of my editors)

    We can do this.. no problem. Great to see you. Sorry we had a mis-connect at CheezebergHer.
    xoxo
    Jen

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  29. I forgot to say how lovely it was to meet you in person! Bonus round in the ride to the airport.

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  30. I forget who commented about a conference for people with special needs themselves, but I don't see why we'd be excluded from a special needs conference. Although many special needs bloggers are from the "unaffected" parent perspective, not all. I write about my own disability in addition to my kids'. Special needs doesn't mean parents, it includes them just as it includes patients. Plus, I think it's useful to talk with adults living with the same issues as my boys are, so all of us together at a conference would be great, and parents and patients could split apart for some tracks.

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  31. Fabulous idea! Ellen and cases of wine for sure .. hey perhaps it should just be at a vineyard. Sounds so awesome!!!

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  32. I love the idea of a special needs bloggers conference! I would definitely be interested in attending. My one suggestion would be that we take into consideration of the age ranges of our children when planning breakout sessions. A parent with a baby or toddler will be at a different stage in life (and probably writing) than a blogger/parent with middle school/teenage children.

    I'm excited to hear/see how this progresses throughout the next few months!

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  33. Yes, Yes, and YES! And if cases of wine are what it takes to make it happen, I still vote YES, even as a Baptist preacher's wife - just don't tell anyone! I am game to help, too. Will email Julia & get on board!
    Ellen, you do realize this has to happen now that you've got us all excited?!?

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  34. If you are interested in helping...please email me so I can invite you on the group that's been created on Support for Special Needs.

    julia@supportforspecialneeds.com

    Love where all this talk is going...and agree with many, many things that have been said.

    Look forward to hearing from you all...we already have a nice group started!

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  35. Count me in. I'd pay big money to attend that. Speak at it. Just bask in the glory of being around other people who understand our special worlds.

    Hopefully we can make it happen.

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  36. I'd definitely go. And if I can be so bold - reach out to bloggers in the hearing impaired community, too. :)

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  37. I love how excited everyone is. There's such a hunger for a community. I agree with Rob, we need to make this community grow, and find commonalities among ourselves. Count me in!

    And Ellen, it was so wonderful meeting you. Thank you for being such a powerful voice, and yet so kind. You make me happy.

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  38. I am so fucking in. Sooooo in. Anything I can do to help?

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  39. I take Leo surfing for a day and look what happens!

    Well hell, I'm on board. I'd especially love to see someone like Carol Greenburg take a major role -- seeing as she's a parent, professional -- and has a diagnosis herself.

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  40. I would love to be able to go to something like this, but it would be impossible - what about a special needs conference being broadcast over the Internet in some way as well for those who cannot attend?

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  41. Please, can you share (at whatever level you're comfortable with) the obstacles that would prevent you from coming? Babysitting? Financial? Both? It would be helpful to hear from people here why they think they couldn't make it, as perhaps we might be able to come up with solutions.

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  42. Not blogging currently, but I did attend last year and was amazed at all the wonderful parents/bloggers. Ellen , I think the idea of a winery is brilliant...Napa valley? I also like the idea of breakout groups by diagnosis...but want to add that as a group we are all busy, tired and stressed so some awesome sponsors for massages and spa treatments will be required. ;)

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Thanks for sharing!