Waiting lists for in-school healthcare services were preventing children with a disability from reaping the full benefits of their educational opportunities.

Marthese Mugliette, the president of the Malta Federation of Organisations – People with Disability, told the House Social Affairs Committee yesterday that although these children went to school to learn, LSAs were often untrained, unable to supplement their charges’ education, and employed simply to babysit.

Ms Mugliette said the need for supplementary educational services applied particularly to early education, where the office responsible for coordinating all LSAs employed in Malta and Gozo, housed in the Ministry for Education, was staffed by two people.

The committee heard that while the past few years have seen Malta make huge leaps forward in the provision of services to the disabled, there was still a need for improvement, especially when it came to academic and sexual education, access to information, and leisure.

Down’s Syndrome Association president Joanne Scerri added that the facilities available in State schools were often not available in church or private schools. Many childcare centres also lacked adequate facilities to care for disabled children, limiting their parents’ access to employment. The financial burden resulting from the latter was even more of a problem when one took the expenses shouldered by parents who had to finance their children’s therapy and medication into consideration.

Ms Scerri said leisure centres appropriate to the needs of the intellectually disabled were lacking. She said there were no venues where youths and adults with intellectual disabilities could meet and socialise in an environment suitable to their needs. As a result, they were forced to remain indoors.

With regards to attempts to better integrate the disabled into regular community life, MFOFD Honorary Secretary Massimo Ellul said that most feedback on the two per cent disability quota introduced in 1967 but only enforced as of last year had been positive. Together with initiatives like Jobsplus and LEAP, it was contributing to an increase in the overall employment of people with disability.

Supported employment programmes catering for mental and physical disabilities reported success rates of 71 per cent and 76 per cent respectively, and employers were demonstrating a commitment to adapting to the needs of challenged employees.

Accessibility remained an issue for those with physical disabilities. Labour MP Deo Debattista said the sexuality of people with a disability was often ignored.

The MFOSD emphasised the need for a single port of call for those looking for information on the facilities and services available to the treatment and care of the disabled.

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