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Sunday, January 19, 2014
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Another year is almost over. just a few days left to the celebration of Christmas, and another New Year. Once again, we celebrate International Disabled People’s Day..
I admit that, in spite of being a disabled person since I was a boy, it’s only in the last ten years or so that I am comfortable with identifying myself as a “disabled person”. Indeed, for most of my life I did my best to pass on as “normal” - whatever that means.
There are still so many misconceptions that exist about disabled people. Many try to try to appear politically correct or sensitive by using euphemisms such as “differently abled”, ‘challenged” or “people with special needs”.
Sadly, some of us choose to adopt these terms. I know - I did take a fancy to "special needs" in my childhood. However, now that I've grown in my understanding, I realise that these apparently positive terms some people use to define who we are also empty in meaning and can be counter-productive. But I already discussed all this in another entry . The truth may well be that people use such words simply because they are uncomfortable with our impairment and can't deal with it.
Thus, one my hear well meaning people making the point that we should “put the person first”. Of course, that is very good. However, it shouldn’t be taken to extremes. Let me explain. Sure, we are people first, our impairments don’t define who we are. Yet, they remain part of who we are. A non-disabled person may think of the fact I’m a wheelchair user and visually impaired as some sort of tragedy.
Yet, if I hadn’t become a wheelchair user or acquired a visual impairment, I probably wouldn't had met the people I met or had the experiences I had - some good or bad. The point is that while many non-disabled people seek ways to “fix” us, many of us are happy with our bodies.
Obviously, I am not saying that treatment for painful conditions or to prevent impairment is not sought but that we’re ready to accept disabled people for who they are. Given our bodies, judge them as you may, are our only means of reaching out to society, then yes, this includes our bodies.
Ignoring the fact that we have impairments, indeed, is the real cause of our disability. My impairments were never the cause of all my problems. It was often society in the way it structured society and looked at me as if I was never meant to be on this planet.
My message is one. Yes, we are persons, like any other human being. Again, like anyone else, we interact with the world through our body, mind and senses. We may be physically and intellectually different but if you really want to include us as persons, you must also acknowledge our differences...
Our common humanity!
Enjoy disabled people’s day and the rest of the week!
PS: Be patient with non-disabled persons. They try to help but don’t always get it right ;)
More content is available at http://www.gordongd.com/
More content is available at http://www.gordongd.com/
Friday, July 19, 2013
You might have heard the saying:
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…”
However, as a visually impaired wheelchair user, my advice is NOT to believe everything you see or hear (if you can!). The fact, in a hypothetical land of the blind*, it’s more likely for the sighted to have a hard time in society.
Just imagine a world were everyone is blind. Who needs lights? I can only imagine how seeing would be right below on the list of the policy agenda. Technology would be tailored for the blind norm. What would be close to heaven for a blind person living today would represent hell for anyone with sight. Indeed, if nobody could see, it’s probably that blind doctors would have to diagnose sight as an impairment. Any technology that is developed to help the “sighted” would be the new “special equipment” that the mainstream of our world preferring that term to the correct one: assistive or adaptive technology.
Of course, if I had the time, I would dare write a book on my fictional blind world. I might even depict a world where sighted people are oppressed because a blind society thinks they’re defective or even crazy - for they see “visions” of physical objects and are scared by faces they cannot understand. I would be able to relate to that horror of first seeing the world after 3 years of severe blindness. The reality was so strange, faces so horrible. As my eyes were adjusting during that period, I was shocked at how the face didn’t make sense. The eyes, the nose and the other features appeared disconnected and terrifying to the extent that I had to close my eyes to rest my short-circuited neurones in my brain.
I admit that if I had no visual impairment or never lived some years in my 20s as a blind person, I would have believed that such a blind world would be an oppressive world where, as a sighted person, I would be rejected and even judged as a medical oddity and as an unstable or even holy visionary. I’m not sure whether they would attempt a cure if I was fully sighted. But perhaps they would discover that by blinding me they could “cure” my sightedness. My “seeing disorder”. Yet, while one may feel that such a world would be an ugly and oppressive one, the sad fact is that our real world has done much the same thing to disabled people as this imaginary blind society would do to its few sighted people.
As we are born and doctors notice we have an impairment, our lives rarely remain totally unchanged. Unfortunately, while our impairments prevent us from doing some things or make it difficult for us to be as effective, it is society that many times excludes us.
The world created by society seldom is the same world our ancestors lived in. The very fact that we have separated ourselves from nature and the process of life would be enough to understand that while we have progressed in many things, we have also regressed in many others. We live in buildings, we have built high, we sit down for long hours and we engage in behaviours that are not to be found in nature.
Yes,we have developed language, technology and ideas to help us better relate to each other. Yet. we lost touch with nature and forgot where we all came from.
Sadly,, we have created new problems. Amongst these, the problem of disability. In our world, people with impairments are not born disabled but tend to become disabled. Diagnosed and studied or misconceived as alien to the rest of humanity, we become case studies or conflicting images of the evil or the holy. Well intentioned people around us persist in trying to make our impairments lessen and to “normalise” us - even when it’s impossible in our time. We are driven to believe there is something wrong or bad in us. We feel inferior and while we want to share our humanity with the world, we are judged as being the odd ones out.
Our impairment, which remains an important part of who we are, often hijacks all that we are about to the world. It’s this the tragedy I see xain our world.
While we would condemn the fictional blind world, we fail to recognise that we are doing much of the same by denying the difference of people who have physical, sensory and intellectual impairments and those with mental health conditions.
The only hope for all of us to live in a better world is to recognise and celebrate our human diversity and be willing to move away from the constrains posed by our beliefs, prejudice and identities.
In life, we are all the same fragile, dependent and mortal human beings.
This is why we should work together to make inclusion a reality for all human beings where everyone is given the equal chance and opportunity to live to the full potential. Even if, as disabled people, we may tend to focus exclusively on disability rights and equality, I sincerely believe that an inclusive world and an inclusive society is about including of all us and must be a celebration of our human diversity as we all ultimately have to face similar challenges in life.
* If I had to choose to call this land, I would consider to call it "Bland". On second thoughts,I don't really think that it would be such a good idea...
Sunday, June 23, 2013
L)) In My Own Words: Listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of a podcast episode I recorded where I talk about my experiences and how it changed the way I viewed society and the world around me for the rest of my life.
"I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being truly included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal […] this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider."
This week I have been doing some soul searching. I didn’t expect that I would react to this news as I did this time. Perhaps it’s because I’m more in touch with my thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the painful memories of a past long forgotten seemed to have come to haunt me again. I am sorry for being unclear but my thoughts and emotions are unsettled.
Let me take you back to a time when I was a boy of around 10. I was watching the local news in the evening when I heard the name of one of my best friends being mentioned. I admit that I was jealous at first. I was curious to know what had happened. I listen attentively… He was being awarded a prize for kindness… I listened more attentively now. A prize, for what?
And then , I understand he was being rewarded for ‘helping’ his ‘poor handicapped friend’. Who? Then, it dawned on me as if I was struck by lightning. I was that boy he was ‘helping’. I was the boy described in terms of a ‘needy’ and even ‘helpless’. I felt that it seemed they were talking about another ‘crippled’ boy - not me! I felt betrayed.
At first, I was angry at my supposed ‘friend’. I was angry because I started to suspect that our friendship had been a charade. A ploy to be awarded such a prize or to look nice and popular with others. But, if I think about it, as a child himself, he really had no say in the matter. Undeniably, I did feel betrayed by my friend and while we sort of patched things up, from then on our friendship was never the same.
Why am I telling you this? The truth that this prize for kindness - also known in Maltese as “Premju tat-Tjubija” or “Premju Qalb tad-Deheb)”“ (Golden Heart Award) or “Premju Gwanni XXIII” (Pope John 23rd Award) is an initiative started off by a local NGO called the "Peace Lab”. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the values expressed by this organisation, including the promotion of peace and dialogue between people. However, I believe that the ones who cane up with the idea of awarding a so-called “Prize for Kindness” may not be aware of what impact could have on the children who are being awarded this prize and the child who is ‘being helped’.
I don’t know what my best friend went through then and what he thinks of this experience today. What I can say that it left me with a sense of betrayal and forced me to mistrust others who sought my friendship for a long time. You know it is said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. And I’m sure that my teachers and school had all the good intentions by nominating my friend. But while my friend achieved a certain prestige and recognition, I felt suddenly I was invalidated as a person. And the way the media portrayed me, again, was less than flattering. I was the taker and a burden. I knew that my friend didn’t see our friendship as a one-way thing. Yet, I was forced to question everything. Was I a ‘sacrifice’?
Yes, it took years before I can say that I regained some trust. However, in spite of the terrible things they said about me. Defining me only in terms of my physical impairment. As if that was my problem. My curse. I have adapted to it didn’t I? Why do you need to deny that my body is part of who I am? Instead, you rob me of any claims to my individual identity. And so, deny my humanity. I know that these are hard words to write. But I can’t shout them out loud because I would gain nothing. For, even if we hate to admit it, such prizes only reinforce our social inequalities not just as disabled people but as human beings. We have to reward a friendship because we still perceive a disabled child to be always ‘less fortunate’. He or she is always taking. As if our friendship wasn’t based on mutual respect and understanding. As if we didn’t share our childhood together.
I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal. I am sorry to have to say all this but I can’t help feeling that this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider.
Today, I understand that we are all co-dependent. We all need each other in today’s world. By pretending to be doing charity by simply sending money where, granted, it is needed will not solve the problems of poverty, lack of access, food shortage and the many problems that we all must share responsibility for. Awarding a prize for kindness will always mean that one is, in some way, inferior to another. And, worse, the fact that you’re telling children that a friendship between a disabled and a non-disabled friend is an act of kindness is telling them that such a friendship is a sacrifice where one party is always the less important - the less of value. Have we become so desperate for kindness that we need to reward even ordinary friendships by painting them using our own narratives of heroes and courage?
Now, my last thoughts. I know that I have used strong language here. But, honestly, I don’t want other children to go through my experience. Yes, I have learned from it as well. Yet, I believe it is diametrically opposed to the principles of inclusion I believe in. A prize for ‘kindness’ is also a misunderstanding of charity. Charity requires us to practice compassion where we help others not out of pity and because we think we are better than them. Compassion and charity are about being with another human being and looking at him or her as your equal. It’s not and should never be a power relationship.
And what about the idea of rewarding kindness?
“Virtue is its own reward”!
At least, it should be!
> from: Gordon's D-Zone
> from: ZoneMind
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Top: A photo of me on my first day at school...
Do you agree that disabled children should be included in mainstream schools? My guess is that many of you have answered “yes” to that question.
Of course, this is a good thing. It indicates that attitudes towards disabled people have changed since the time when a majority of disabled people were provided education in ‘special’ schools. Yet, do we really understand what ‘inclusive education’ actually means?
A common misconception about inclusive education is that it’s simply a matter of placing a disabled child in a mainstream class. However, while this may enable a few disabled children to get a proper education and develop the skills to function in an adult world, it expects the disabled child to fit in the educational system without taking into account the fact that the child has an impairment. In contrast, inclusion sets out to place the student at the centre of the educational process and thus enable children to attain their maximum educational potential.
As a young disabled boy attending a mainstream Church school, I felt part of the school. While I’m grateful for the teachers and staff who supported me during that time, things would have been different if it wasn’t for the fact that I could keep up with my peers, wasn’t disruptive to the class and my physical impairment permitted me to be more physically active than I am today.
On the other hand, if I had a more severe physical impairment, a profound intellectual impairment or exhibited challenging behaviour, I would have probably been sent off to a special school or denied an education to begin with. n my case, I survived an education based on the principle of integration where it was a matter of sink or swim. If I hadn’t adapted to the system, my future would have been very different.
On the contrary, a truly inclusive educational system would have taken my impairment into account and made it possible for me to be more included in school events that required, say, physical stamina and strength.
In this sense, inclusion is about providing a disabled student with the support he or she needs depending on the impairment. This may range from making sure the school is physically accessible, providing educational resources in alternative formats and supporting the student with a Learning Support Assistant – as well as providing adequate professional involvement if required.
Inclusive education is planning an education that responds to the child’s needs through the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which also involves the child.
Indeed, real inclusion requires that we rethink our approach to education and go beyond the old idea that education is simply a way to prepare children for the world of work.
While preparing our children to contribute to our society through work remains an important function of education, what we gain from the educational process is much greater than that.
We learn to make friends, learn about new people, solve problems and form relationships.
Indeed, education helps us to explore life beyond the confines of our family circle. As a disabled child myself, school helped me meet people whom I might never have met as my impairment often placed limits on how far from home I could go before I got tired.
Indeed, the goal of inclusion is also to provide children with an opportunity to learn about other children and how to live in a society where everyone is different. It provides an opportunity for disabled and non-disabled children to learn about each other and become aware of the fact that while there are differences, they have much in common.
Finally, inclusion helps reduce fear and stigma that existed in the past. It also helps all of us to become aware of our diversity and to appreciate the value of every human being and their right to belong in society.
Unfortunately, as adults, we tend to prefer to include those disabled children who are more easily included or when the support required is minimal, and exclude other disabled children who may need more support and who challenge us when it comes to their inclusion.
Unfortunately, one finds that children who may have a severe intellectual impairment or complex dependency needs and those with severe challenging behaviour are often left out when we discuss the issue of inclusion. These children remain the most excluded groups of children from mainstream education.
Granted, some of these children pose unique challenges when it comes to their inclusion. However, if a proper Individual Education Plan (IEP) is designed, proper support could be identified. And giving the child the right support in daily life can do a lot in addressing the particular challenges encountered. One cannot assume that just because a child appears to be getting nothing from the mainstream, s/he is a waste of time and resources.
In addition, proper inclusive educational planning engages with the child as a whole person, involving a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying the child’s needs and aspirations. In no way does inclusion expect teachers to provide an inclusive education on their own.
Rather, it encourages all the school staff to adopt an attitude based on inclusion, where every child is valued.
Inclusive education must be seen both as a project and as a process. While legislation offers us the direction to follow, inclusion is a process that society needs to support.
Indeed, a proper inclusive education can only be successful if there is investment that improves schools’ access to the environment, educational resources and flexibility.
Inclusion also invites us to rethink our approach to education from one focused exclusively on academic achievement to one that fosters social values.
However, crucial to the success of inclusion is the willingness of all key stakeholders to cooperate together in the realisation of inclusive education.
As a disabled adult, I firmly believe this is the only way forward!
This article originally appeared on the Tuesday 22 edition of The Times of Malta newspaper. Full reference above.
Cardona, G. C. (21/5/2013) “Goals of Inclusive Education”, The Times of Malta. Allied Publications: Malta. Also available at: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130521/opinion/Goals-of-inclusive-education.470587(Accessed: 23 May, 2013)
Copyright © 2011-12 Gordon C. Cardona More content is available at http://www.gordongd.com/
Copyright © 2011-12 Gordon C. Cardona More content is available at http://www.gordongd.com/