Barriers for people with disabilities
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Barriers for people with disabilities

Most people face hardships at one time or another. However, for people with disabilities, barriers can be more frequent and have more serious consequences. Barriers are factors in a person’s environment that limit functioning and cause disability.

Such factors include physical barriers, lack of relevant assistive technology, negative attitudes by people towards disability and services systems and policies that are either non-existent or hinder the emancipation of all people with health conditions in all areas of everyday life.

These barriers to normal living lead to social inequalities that undermine the well-being of society. In its latest annual report, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with disability confirmed that, in 2017, it handled 522 complaints, 44 per cent of them being against government entities. Many rightly wonder why the government is not leading by example in bringing down the barriers encountered by people with disabilities.

The majority of complaints against government entities related to the education sector and mainly involved issues with learning support educators at schools as well as matters involving students with disabilities and certain courses and examinations. Denying young people with disabilities the opportunity to participate fully in and benefit from publicly-funded education is unacceptable.

Of course, the integration of students with disabilities in the education system requires extra human and financial resources to be successful. Parents of these students have a right to the extra support their children need to benefit from the public educational system fully. Such resources are not limited to the availability of professionally-trained learning support educators but also the elimination of physical barriers in the school environment, medical and psychological help on a regular basis as well as the fostering of positive attitudes, knowledge and understanding of people with disabilities.

Not surprisingly, the Commissioner for People with Disabilities, Oliver Scicluna, commented that accessibility remained the biggest problem.

Abuse of the Blue Badge that guarantees people with disabilities certain concessions, like reserved parking spaces, is a reality that needs to be addressed by the law enforcement authorities.

Disability is complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional and often contested. Disability should be viewed neither as a purely medical condition nor as a purely social one. Policies meant to promote social integration of all members of a community must address the stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities. Such policies must deal with the inflexibility in many working environments. They should also aim to dismantle barriers to the enjoyment of social, religious and cultural activities by people with disability. The primary responsibility for creating this participative environment for all falls on government entities but also on private business and the Church.

International studies confirm that people with disabilities are far less likely to be employed, continue with their studies to tertiary level and avoid falling in the poverty trap. Children with disabilities are more prone to experience violence than those without disabilities.

The government paying lip service to the rights of people with disability is simply not good enough. Many people with disabilities and their families suffer in silence to preserve their dignity.

Everyone should agree that a fair society has a responsibility to support those that need some extra help to live as normal a life as possible.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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