Not all is well for the disabled
The Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability appreciates the contribution by Shaun Grech with regards to his article Disabling Lives, Stifled Voices which appeared in The Sunday Times last month.
We agree with all that was written in the article. We agree that much good has been done to improve the well-being of the disabled. But this does not mean that all is well.
On the contrary, what is lacking far outweighs the good that has been done. This is evident from the many pleas continuously appearing in the media which go unheeded year after year, the lack of participation and inclusion of disabled persons in almost all aspects of society such as employment, further education, politics, sports, entertainment and cultural activities. However, there seems to be a privileged few who do not share this opinion. They have no right to speak on our behalf.
Major rights issues concerning disabled persons which we feel need special and urgent attention are the disability pension.
With less than 60 per cent of the minimum wage it is not enough to allow a reasonably decent livelihood; it guarantees poverty and perpetuates dependency on the charity of carers.
There is no real commitment to provide residential homes for the disabled in the community and accessible places for socialising are almost non-existent.
There are very few opportunities for continued education. Pre- and post-secondary education is feeble and totally unplanned. There is an absence of the application of quality standards, lack of institutional commitment to achieving meaningful goals.
Day centres lack the proper environment and resources, are becoming overcrowded while waiting lists are on the increase.
Disabled people are faced with non-accessible infrastructure, buildings, transport, communications, beaches, services and basic facilities.
We keep seeing no law enforcement in issues such as employment, reserved parking and non-compliance with design guidelines.
The on-going institutionalised encouragement in the media and society on the dependence on alms-giving and fund raising for disability concerns is having a humiliating and degrading effect on persons with disability reducing their social status to second class citizens.
According to a recent EU commission report “one in six persons (16 per cent) in the EU has a disability that ranges from mild to severe”. The corresponding figures in our country, according to the latest census, are one in 15 persons (6.5 per cent).
Assuming that this is not due to Divine intervention, many locals seem to be reluctant to admit a disability and be labelled as a burden on society with little or nothing to gain.
The recent ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) by the Maltese Parliament aims primarily to bring a change to all this.
However, there is no guarantee this will happen in the near future unless stakeholders are ready to fight and, if necessary, make aggressive demands for their rights to be upheld.
This will not be easy due to the under-representation of persons with disability in policy-making. There are also barriers to be overcome such as negative attitudes, financial constraints, lack of academic qualifications, accessibility and self-confidence.
These last few weeks I took it upon myself to conduct a survey among friends and people I met to enquire about their awareness of the UNCRPD. Most of them, and these include teachers, lawyers, trustees, local councilors and MPs, had little or no idea of its existence and much less its implications.
We agree that Malta lacks a strong disability movement with teeth. Several activists sacrifice time and money, risking intimidation and retaliation, for the benefit of the many.
Unfortunately, a great many more persons with disability, carers and bodies remain silent, burnt out and disillusioned. What is needed is more participation and encouragement from all stakeholders, the elimination of the fragmentation that exists and the forming of partnerships, at least in issues that are common to us all.
Only then can we stand up, be counted and make demands with a strong and, if need be, aggressive voice.
Perhaps, joining and becoming active members of the federation is one way of getting about this.
Laurence Borg is PRO for the Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability.