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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 - Peace between Israel and Palestine?

At the time of writing, Israel and Palestine are still in a state of war. This is now the fifth day of fighting. The fighting in the Gaza strip is a manifestation of a conflict that started off since the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Unfortunately, no peace agreement has lasted for long in the conflict between the leaders of Israel and Palestine. But what is at the root of this conflict?

Many explanations for this strong enmity that apparently exists between Israel and Palestine can be proposed. It could be due to the fact that the Israel achieved statehood at the expense of resident Palestinians then living in the area who lost claims to their homeland and who were excluded from certain regions by those supporting claims to the idea of a Jewish state (see this link for a complete history). But, in whatever way you account for it, the fact remains that people have died and are still dying right to this day.

I believe that 2009 should not be simply about making resolutions. Can Israel and Palestine resolve their differences and make peace? Possibly. But before that happens, both parties need to commit to a state of peace and in being ready to agree on a just compromise that recognizes the mistakes of the past. Naturally, the fact Hamas remains adamant on using force adds further challenges to finding a solution. On the other hand, it is undeniable that a channel of communication should be opened up between Israel and Palestine if anyone wants the conflict resolved.

Of course, we cannot pretend that the past hasn’t happened. But perhaps it is proper to mend this protracted conflict before more people die. We cannot change the history of Israel and Palestine, but we can change the future we leave the next generations of Israeli and Palestinian children. For, at present, more and more children in these areas are only learning to hate each other further - and even dying for reasons that are beyond them - and beyond us all. Otherwise, a legacy of bloodshed and divisions between brothers, sisters, families will persist.

I wish that peace will be achieved and sustained in the Middle East by 2009. However, before that can happen, real work and sacrifice must occur from both sides and channels of communication are truly opened for possible reconciliation. It’s too easy to say that both parties should bury the hatchet - yet the reality is that war and conflict can only lead to further resentment and destruction. It will take strong will to turn the clock back. Yet, the effort must be made – for the sake of both Israeli and Palestinian people. For the sake of world peace.

Update: Help by signing this AVAAZ petition...

Wishing you all a happy 2009 full of peace and prosperity!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A True Meaning of Christmas

Today, getting out of bed was quite a struggle with the cold weather and my sore throat which is getting worse. Before Christmas Eve, I wanted to write a few lines on the true meaning of Christmas but as I read over the net for inspiration, I didn't seem to get any.

Honestly, I don't find this season to be that joyous any more. As a child, I might have looked forward to a present or two, but now it's getting hard to ignore that Christmas has lost its significance and it can revive a few painful memories. Like the one time I realized that the charity telethons that aired during this time considered people (or children) like me who had physical impairments as 'less fortunate' people in need of 'charity'. It was a blow to a part of me that still revolts on hearing those words uttered over and over again.

Christmas of 2003 was particularly full of this stuff - especially if you switched on local TV. Even if by then I should have grown in my resilience, such messages of being charitable to disabled people made me feel small and inferior. And it still does drive me nuts.

So I know, to a certain extent, what it feels like to be at the 'receiving end' of these telethons. At least, I know that being talked down in that way does not exactly help build a positive self-image.

Apart from that, I wonder why year after year, people seem to gain a sense of satisfaction with giving money to what they consider 'less fortunate' people without even bothering to ask themselves - why is their a need to collect money? Oftentimes, even the most poor among us are not poor out of irresponsibility or simple misfortune, but due to a society that excludes them (or us) from accessing equal opportunities, better deals in education and generally, leaving society unchanged. And such a status quo also leaves poverty and injustice unchanged.

This is a sad story, but it's true. It doesn't matter if you have all the good intentions in the world. If society or the world fails to give you an opportunity, you're screwed! I don't want to end this post on a negative note. Even if I know that after Christmas and New Year are over, we'll return to reading about war and poverty in the world. Or doing things as we used to do.

On the other hand, a part of me still hopes that there'll be a real change in my life and in that of others. Even a little transformation that helps us realize that we can make a difference not just by using words to pay lip-service to the Christmas spirit but becoming truly involved in creating a better world where everyone - in spite of our differences - truly has a place to shine.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rewriting the past ...

When I was a young child with an interest in astronomy, I was fascinated by the facts I learned about the universe ranging from the composition of the planets of our solar system, the nature of stars and the idea of a big bang. However, one of the most intriguing fact I learned was that since it takes millions of years for light to reach us from stars and galaxies far away, the night sky we see today is made up of stars and galaxies that might have disappeared or changed. Or exploded!

The universe as we see it now is not as it is now. Think about it. But why am I bringing this up now? Perhaps it’s because I do feel like that boy who would peer from his telescope at night in the hope of getting some answers. Or may be it’s the realisation that I remain alone in this journey of life. Not that it’s really sad but rather it’s like you know that, in truth, nobody knows you and if you’re not careful, you might forget where you came from.

In the process, you stumble onwards risking losing direction or making the same mistakes. This post might sound obscure and it is in many ways. However, at its core, it is about a hidden longing within. A desire to understand the past, or to reach out to someone else – even for a moment. For in contemplating the cosmic past, my humanity’s past and my past life, I perceive a continuity of sorts. The passage of matter into life, of life into consciousness. And to self-awareness. Finally, to culminate in the sharing of each other in our communities and in our societies.

We might wish to change our past. But the fact remains the past makes us who we are today. There are things I would have liked to have done differently. Stars, which turned into black holes. And the future is not always in our control. Yet, one fact is sure – we cannot live through this life alone. At least, that’s how I feel about it..

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reflections on Human Rights Day

I’ve had a busy week and today we marked the end of disability week by celebrating International Human Rights Day, which falls on the 10th December. Indeed, this day becomes more significant since we now have a brand new UN Convention protecting our rights as disabled people. Every year, we hold a parliamentary session where disabled people and parents are given the chance to speak to politicians. This event is also broadcast live on the local national TV channel (TVM).

Yes, there’s a lot to celebrate. Much has changed since we were locked in institutions, or undignified and devalued as humans – which comprised having our bodies subject to medical scrutiny and our souls judged by dubious theological doctrines. We are not products of sin, or else, defective examples of humanity... Not having either a sex or an individual identity. Indeed, we have come a long way…

or have we?

Yes and no. My quality of life, as a disabled person, is often affected by the decisions my country’s government takes. Fortunately, Malta is in the process of ratifying the UN Convention rights of Disabled People But, of course, presently, I still have to fight to secure my right to be part of this society. And it’s sometimes exhausting. Access to Transport, information and services remain problems for me as a visually impaired wheelchair user. And it doesn’t stop there.

I find it disturbing that we still hear politicians speaking of ‘economic hardships’ when we demand our rights to be respected. And the ‘economic burden’ we seem to pose helps justify our elimination. Do pre-natal screening and abortion ring a bell? Or euthanasia? And when you’re already been subject to countless ‘professionals’ putting you down because of your body, clerics speaking of you in the third person, and economists calculating how much you will cost the state. Then you wonder… Is it worth living?

The answer remains yes. Yet, apart from the injustices perpetrated in the minority world (or developed countries), which have included institutionalisation (such as Czech republic), faced sterilisation (such as Australia, US and others) the greatest injustices prevail in the majority world. The issue is not just about disabled people but it affects all people who have to face endless wars, famine and poverty. Not to mention deal with the effects of more potent diseases. And we give? Very little aid and no solutions to rectify our historical injustices - the effects of a minority world that has exploited foreign natural resources, instrumetaised country’s geographical positions and are contributing to massive pollution and waste.

To top it all, we also call people living in the majority world,’less fortunate’ – as if luck had everything to do with their situation. I remember being referred to as ‘less fortunate’ myself because of my impairment but then I realised that we as individuals and as a society often create disability, as we create the realities of poverty and ignore injustice. Admittedly, I have been guilty of trampling over the rights of others myself (knowingly or unintentionally) but the fact remains that if I do not respect the rights of others, I cannot expect others to respect mine.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

European Day of Disabled Persons 2008

3rd December is the European Day of Disabled People. Hurray! It's our day... or is it?

Well, the message for this year focuses on how a more inclusive society is of benefit to every member of society - disabled or not. And I believe as a disabled person I feel that this is the purpose of disability activism and the reason I joined in the Maltese Council of Disabled People (MCoDP). Indeed, I don't want to be advantaged over others because of my impairments, but I do demand the opportunity to participate and be included on an equal level. In truth, this issue is about you as well if you think of yourself as non-disabled.

But then think of how better this world would be if our society was more inclusive. Let's assume you need to take your baby son/daughter or brother/sister about four corners around the block in his or her pram. Imagine if the roads were all bumpy with garage ramps seemingly set as booby traps to topple you over. You'd thank inclusion then when you find that the pavements allow you to pass without too many difficulties. For me, as a wheelchair user, traveling on a bus is next to impossible but, I hope, as Malta ratifies the UN Convention Rights of Disabled People, things will improve.

What about access to information? As a visually impaired European citizen, don't I have the right to access information in an electronic or other accessible format on an equal level. It can help a wide range of people - ranging from old people who find reading difficulty to children! But then, think of yourself and how great it would if, following a hard day staring at a computer, you can still read with your eyes closed by 'listening' to an audio book... Believe me, it's quite an experience!


But now, let me talk about communication... Locally, the availability of programs with subtitles or Maltese Sign Language interpretation are virtually non-existent. But having subtitles, for example, can help a diverse range of people - such as old people who have lost their hearing and even children who want to learn to read. Apart from that, it can also help you follow a conversation if the accent is unfamiliar to you.

I cannot forget people with an intellectual impairment (UK: learning disability) here. Don't they have the right to access information too? Providing text in easy-to-read format is an option that can help. E-T-R texts are a conversion into the same text into a more concise, simpler language and are often accompanied by images. But, when KNPD - where I work - issues a publication in the easy-to-read format, demand exceeds supply!

Of course, accessibility to resources are only a fraction of the inclusion formula. In this sense, access to the Internet by designing accessible pages, access to services and all areas of life where we have rights are integral to the success of inclusion. However, we should be aware that disability is neither constant or inevitable. Impairment may well be on a route to 'progressive deterioration' as we grow older, but our level of inclusion in society need not be limited - even if we acquire an impairment. It's not fair and by equalizing social opportunities we can exert our human rights and reclaim our denied status in the world.

I'm afraid that I have a busy week ahead of me - interviews, receptions, conferences, food, ... (so no posts for a while)

PS: To check out the things KNPD and other organizations in Malta are doing for the period after the European Day of Disabled Persons, and on the occasion of International Human Rights Day (10 December) visit KNPD - please note opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect KNPD's position

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Other Side of Barack Obama

As I learned that Barack Obama won the presidency on the 5th November, I was quite satisfied with this outcome. And yes, I admit this post was long coming. But let me start with why I feel Obama could make a difference in the world. Conversely, I will also be highlighting an issue on which I totally disagree with Obama's position. But first, the good things... Even if I don’t live in the US, I know that America’s foreign policy wasn’t doing much but creating enemies and financing the military while extending wars in non-US territory.

As an African-American, Barack Obama’s victory can also be seen as a triumph for all African-Americans who have suffered discrimination and great injustices due to prejudice and segregationist policies. Hopefully, Obama’s election should encourage a positive change in attitudes and help further dismantle the still prevailing racism present in the US.

I cannot avoid mentioning that Obama has also spoken of unity and has pledged to fight for other groups in society… including disabled people. All this is a quite welcoming change which is part of the reason why I was partly pleased hearing that Obama won. Indeed, on listening to one of Obama’s speeches for unity and of his wish to bring greater equality to American citizens and promoting peace in the world, I couldn't help nodding in agreement .

These are all positive and commendable sides of Barack Obama. Yet, I fear that there are some issues where I don’t get Obama. While he asserts he wishes to stand up for unity and the civil rights of all people, he has consistently held an extreme pro-abortion position (I won't use such euphemisms as 'pro-choice' here). In fact, he has supported the vote against the ban on ‘partial birth abortion’. Partial birth abortion is a procedure which literally involves sucking the baby from the mother’s womb. This surgical intervention is carried out after the 20th week of pregnancy – when the baby is almost fully formed.

Not that this should make any difference since, as we know, human life begins at conception. The debate is whether you classify human life at this stage as a human being. I admit that my position is that discussions on what constitutes human life, being or person-hood are abstract attempts at justifying murder. This is not dissimilar than how Nazis labelled Jews and other groups as ‘inferior’ or ‘subhuman’ to justify genocide. But I digress…

Unfortunately, Obama’s stance on abortion goes further than that. In the period he held as Senator in Illinois, he fervently opposed the Born Alive Act which was aimed at protecting the life of babies who survived an abortion by requiring these babies to be given prompt life-saving medical treatment. In other words, Obama voted for these surviving babies to be left to die.

I feel that this pro-abortion record should be kept in mind, especially since we are bombarded with the image of Obama as defender of minorities and vulnerable people. I guess for Obama, unborn babies do not classify as 'vulnerable' or even as 'people'... May I also remind you that these pro-abortion votes involved the destruction of what are, according to doctors,‘healthy babies’, so I shiver if I think what would be the position on babies having impairments. I dare not ask the question.

Of course, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water (pardon the pun). Yes, Obama promises a lot of positive changes for the United States and for our troubled world. However, we must not forget that politicians can promise a lot and then betray us with their actions. Granted, even when it comes to abortion, Obama has said he wants to reduce the number of abortions, invest in better sex education, provide more support to mothers, and help in providing greater adoption options. In addition, he stated he sought to find the 'middle ground' between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-abortion. But then, he goes out saying that he doesn’t want his daughters ‘[to be] punished with a baby’, which makes me wonder a bit…

Unfortunately, John MacCain, Obama’s contender was disadvantaged by Bush’s poor performance while he clung to the old rhetoric of war and rigid policy whilst the Republican pro-life stance did little to address the issue of abortion. Indeed, I expect the decision of many in the pro-life camp to elect Obama wasn’t an easy one to take. However, the fact remains that Obama is now the President of the United States and thus, I hope that he follows up on the other issuess he talked about...

Only time will tell.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Wasteland

I expect that the last poe-post entry was a bit depressing to say the least. The fact that I’m 27 isn’t that a big deal really but I know that since I turned 19, birthdays are not occasions I look forward to with a lot of enthusiasm. And yes, if you’re older than 27, you’re probably saying that I’m still young and all that… which is true.

However, I may not be that happy with birthdays because they remind me that time is ticking. It’s perhaps irrational to most but it’s a day in my life when I ask myself whether I have reached my targets or whether I have achieved something this year and the years before that. Because, I know, that at the end of the day we are all going to die. And, even if we may be comforted by our beliefs, we don’t know what is beyond this life.

I often joke about many things with my friends and family. No subject is too sacrosanct to talk about. I have joked about religion, politics and even about impairment… But one topic I hesitate to joke about is life, or the value of life. And it is there where my deepest fears reside. If I do not live and die, what will I be?

I can’t deny that when there were really moments of deep anguish and pain I didn’t wish it ended all. Yes, you got that right. But, then, I remember that if I do something stupid, I won’t have anything. I won’t be even sure the ‘I’ will still exist! And then, what will happen? The world will go on. I will be one day forgotten as many others who have lived before.

I know this might sound sad and rather depressing – even for me. But it’s a fact that part of the sadness I need to describe is rooted in, firstly, the loneliness and awareness of my existence as a human being, and second, in the enforced consciousness of my inevitable mortality. If it weren’t for the fact that I still believe that there’s some purpose I need to fulfil or in my hope of a better future of love, peace and freedom, then life would be just a journey through a wasteland.

* This post is not on the famous and evocative poem by T. S. Eliot The Wasteland.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It took a moment ...

It took a moment
As I dare look back
To realise

How happy I was
How sad I am

What will happen next?

Many judged me by their yardstick,
By the way I walked.
Or by what I said,
And the things I wrote.

But did they know me then?
Do I know myself now?

Change is certain.
Death is sure.
But love is not.

And our life is lonely.
Always unknown to others.
And hidden from our selves.

We tread into the dark.
Hoping to find the answer.

But never knowing
Never sure of what lies beyond.
Or look beyond the lies.
In believing this reality is ours forever.
A false security.

It won’t last. It never does.
But I must go on.

Hoping in this absurd uncertainty.
Yes, even accepting the inevitability
Of death
And of love's demise.

Life is happiness and sadness.
Life will cease to be.

Love can empower and destroy.
Love will end.

Change seems eternal.
But change is not forever.

And the last day comes for me,
I hope there is a time beyond.
But know not.

Friday, November 07, 2008

27 YEARS AND 9 MONTHS OF LIFE

Tomorrow I’ll be celebrating my 27th birthday. I was told I was born on the 8th November 1981 at around one pm... That's soon after lunchtime... But enough of that for I'll get hungry... The fact is that I know I am getting old! And feeling it… But, I need to stop before I turn 27 and ask - have I achieved something over these years? To be quite honest, I didn’t have time to stop and think that much as I had lots of things to keep my mind busy. But now that I have decided to stop and write a bit, I realise that I cannot answer the question - not out of hunger but because I'm not sure of how to answer. Indeed, what have I achieved in 27 years?

I may think of the changes that have taken place in my life only during this year... The graduation in Leeds... A new job... Making a lot of new friends… And finishing some important documents and reports... Deciding on whether to proceed with my PhD… and, finally, going for it! Etc. But where does that leave me?

I don’t really know. Life is unpredictable after all. I have had plans that had to be abandoned many times in the past. Paths that were not of my own choosing and others that were and are. But then, there are those 9 months that I have to account for. Because in those 9 months shielded from the world, I was here and wasn’t here in the world. And, if I think about it, we are never far from that condition. We float in a planet in a vast universe. In reality, we are insignificant in relation to what is out there.

And what is out there can scare us. And I know that. But what can I do but wait, hope that plans work out the way I want them to. But then, what if they don’t? A Yiddish saying says it best – ‘man makes plans and God laughs!’. Our life, our plans and our whole course of life, is only important to us. However, at the same time, we are the only ones who can discover who we really are. But ironically, who we are is often buried and obscured by what we have been told about ourselves or by false ideas about our abilities and our potential.

In 9 months, I came into the world. 27 years later I am still here. Writing this. But how many will remember this world? How many will know that we even existed? And then, will there be someone to remember? My only consolation in light of these questions is that the only certain thing I have is this present moment. The time and space I was before is lost and the future has not been created yet.

And so, at this point, what will I choose?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

God forbid ... becoming disabled!

It has been a difficult three weeks. My mobile broke down which meant I had to make do with a file on my computer to list appointments and I was working with an older mobile which wasn’t that accessible to me. Thankfully, the issue was resolved in a few weeks but I felt lost and out of control. Yes, I need my mobile which is also my digital personal assistant I guess. Too bad it doesn’t help me if I go abroad… that would be nice – sort of.

Enough said on that ... Well, these weeks were also full of experiences that made me think about how easy it is to prejudge people on the fact they have impairments or rather what a negative perception about our life non-disabled people have. I get the impression on talking to people who have never had the ‘honour’ of meeting a disabled person that we are putting on a brave face and that, in truth, we lead tragic lives. And sometimes, other assumptions emerge unintentionally.

On Oct 13, for instance, on a discussion programme I was invited to as a representative of the National Commission Persons with Disability, the presenter appealed to the TV audience at home to reflect, on this:

“disability can affect us all and God forbid you have an accident or something and become disabled…How would you feel?” (or something along those lines)

I had to say something… I mean, this implied that my life as it is was unbearable. And at that moment it felt that way! (This includes the heat produced by the studio lights – you could sunbathe under them…)

There’s no denying that acquiring an impairment when you’re older, especially if through accident or disease, is not exactly a nice experience. But then, life must go on. Yes, I may feel nostalgic about the time I could walk and run all over the place but as my mobility impairment progressed with the onset of a visual impairment in my late 20s, I had to adapt and move on. Indeed, my current problems remain tied to the fact I am still finding problems accessing places with my wheelchair and the patronising attitude of my society.

So, I think that the only sentence I would start with the words “God forbid…” is perhaps “God forbid that I lose hope in the achievement of an inclusive society”. And, in light of the American elections, I might add another – “God forbid the American people make the wrong choice (again)…”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tribute to Wenzu Dalli - disability activist (and more) Part 4 [FINALE]

Eventually, Wenzu was appointed the first president of the Maltese Council of Disabled Persons (MCoDP) – the first local organisation run and maintained by disabled people in Malta. As his successor, believe me it’s tough to be in his shoes. Not just because they would probably fall off but because he was a wonderful person and a leader in his own right.

Back to last Thursday's celebration ...


Ah ... I remember all the speeches delivered by distinguished guests - the President of Malta Edward Fenech Adami, and the Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mercieca. And the words of his close friends - including the current chair of the National Commission Persons with Disability Joseph Camilleri, as well as the former parish priest of Hal Ghaxaq who became good friends with Wenzu - Fr Martin Micallef. These last two said a lot about who Wenzu was and what he strove for.

Of course, I cannot fail to mention the fireworks and the great ceremony held at Hal Ghaxaq's parish and at the town square - not to mention the abundant food served during the reception (yum!). Indeed, I feel I must thank the Wenzu Dalli Commission for erecting the bust in Wenzu's honour at the centre of Hal Ghaxaq. The festivities and the warm welcome we received from the people of Hal Ghaxaq was remarkable. Truly, we should remember this man.

But it would be a pity if we forget him as a real person. As his friends, we were lucky enough to know him for who he was. Indeed, it would go against what he believed in if for others Wenzu remained nothing more than an icon – “Wenzu, the blind man” – a person only identified by his blindness. Whilst it’s undeniable that his blindness affected the course of his life, as our impairments often do, it goes against all that Wenzu had fought for and sought to achieve if we reduce all his life was about to a fight against his impairment - because it really wasn't!

For Wenzu, like us, wasn’t a saint or a super human figure. He was a man who was unjustly treated in his youth because of his impairments. However, instead of sulking and closing himself to the world and others, he took action. And yet, this doesn’t make him braver or greater than others, but accentuates his humanity and his determination to redress the injustices perpetuated against him. However, he knew that he couldn’t afford to put himself apart from others because at the end of the day, he knew that we all need each other.

This is what Wenzu is all about. He’s not about a man who ‘overcame his blindness’. It is about a man who recognised that if all society worked together then, truly, there will be a more inclusive society. Only then can disabled people be included as valued human beings. That is what Wenzu taught me - the responsibility for change rests with all of us. And that we should celebrate our differences and who we are. At least, that is what Wenzu taught me...



Yes, we miss you Wenzu!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tribute to Wenzu Dalli - disability activist (and more) Part 3

On the other hand, it would be wrong to assume that Wenzu had only a scholar’s personality (whatever that means…)

In fact, he was also a great joker and storyteller. When he related a joke, you could hear perfect silence followed by an outburst of laughter. When he related an anecdote, we were mesmerised by the detail and the way he drew you into the scene. Once he even visited the desert and chose to travel with the Bedouins for a few days. He described how he and his friend had met this group of nomadic Bedouins.

Once the Bedouins learned that Wenzu was blind, they offered him a trip with them. Apparently, they believed that blind people are endowed with supernatural gifts and thus treated him like royalty throughout the trip across the desert.

Yet, they say if a man has only learning and no kindness, then he is not a full human being. In this too, Wenzu showed compassion and had a deep sense of justice. He loved all animals, and tried to befriend everyone. On the other hand, he knew that he had to put his foot down sometimes or – in Wenzu’s case, shake his head to and fro in disagreement.

Back in 2003, when I met him, Wenzu was also discovering the social model. The idea that it wasn’t the fact he was blind that had limited him in his youth and adulthood. Rather, it was a society that decided that disabled people should not work or develop themselves as it deemed us ‘worthless’ or of ‘little value’. It was then that I was fortunate enough to witness a man who was – like myself – becoming more involved in what I would later know as ‘disability activism’. It was a time when I was also reclaiming part of myself that I had long denied.

In his journey to understand what disability meant to him, he concluded that disability wasn’t an issue of ‘blind people’ or of ‘physically disabled people’, ‘Deaf people’, ‘people with an intellectual impairment’ and so on. Indeed, it wasn’t an issue that only concerned us as disabled people. When he spoke he tried to include every disabled person, whatever the impairment. In his later years, he continued to grow in many ways. OK, at times, he used to mock himself as many of us do to ease non-disabled people when faced by our ‘extraordinary’ bodies (tongue-in-cheek).

It wasn’t the first time he used his large size at the butt of his own jokes with close friends.

TO BE CONTINUED ...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tribute to Wenzu Dalli - disability activist (and more) Part 2

So Wenzu had to find a job…

Despite having received education in the mainstream, Wenzu’s employment options were limited. In this, it must be clearly stated that his prospects were not restricted by the fact he was blind but rather by the strong negative social expectations of the day. Indeed, in Malta of his time (around the early 70s) blind people were usually expected to work either as a telephone operator or in a job policy experts considered to be doable by blind people.

Wenzu eventually became a Braille instructor. Given his thirst for knowledge, this was his best choice given his wide-ranging interests. He could not only have access to more Braille books but opened the doors to other blind people to knowledge and education.

This drive for learning and teaching manifested itself in the way he talked with different people. Indeed, Wenzu could discuss many subjects ranging from opera and yes, even art and sculpture. He left a great impression on me as I heard him speak for the first time. It was a time when I was starting to lose my vision in both eyes and looked up to Wenzu for advice at times. Although he was very confident and straight when he made his point, Wenzu never pretended to be better than those who had received a formal education.

In the same years I met him, Wenzu had started using a computer with speech output which meant that he could now access literally thousands of books and information available on the internet. Knowledge that was unavailable to him given the problems with the size and cost of Braille books.

He used to search for information on his favourite subjects, which included nature and animals. He learned quickly but, again, wasn’t a show-off but used to research a topic well if it interested him. Before I forget - did I mention that he also talked on a local radio channel on how to take care of animals? I remember listening to recordings of birds he used to download from the internet and going into great detail about the species of bird, the colour of the plumage and many other aspects of animal care. He was also a source of local guidance on animal issues in his community of Hal Ghaxaq.

Wenzu's passion for learning prompted the National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD) to name its new resource center after him. The Wenzu Dalli Resource Center (WDRC) was officially opened in 2007.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to assume that Wenzu had only a scholar’s personality (whatever that means…)

TO BE CONTINUED ...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tribute to Wenzu Dalli - disability activist (and more) Part 1

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of being invited to an unveiling of a bust in honour of Wenzu Dalli (1955-2005), an important contributor to local disability activism. I cannot do justice to his memory in these short posts but I’ll try to capture some of the moments and feelings I had following this event.

Wenzu, which is the Maltese equivalent of “Lawrence”, was blind from birth and lived together with his sister Carmen (who was also blind) in the local town of Hal Ghaxaq. He lived in that locality for all of his life. When he died back in 2005, he managed to touch the hearts and change the minds of many people on what it means to be disabled in Hal Ghaxaq and beyond.

But first, a short biographical sketch…

Wenzu, unlike other children of his generation, had to attend a special school in his early days since he was blind. It was there that he learned Braille. He then proceeded to become one of the first disabled students to attend a mainstream school. If we consider that disabled people were in the majority excluded from mainstream schooling, this opportunity helped Wenzu greatly in developing a thirst for knowledge and learning. Sadly, he couldn’t continue expanding on his formal education. Indeed, Wenzu would have been considered ‘lucky’ to have received mainstream education in the first place!

So Wenzu had to find a job…

TO BE CONTINUED …

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Choice and Prejudice

Hi! I'm here again... At least today I found a few minutes to write a post entry. The truth of the matter is that between the fact that I had an awful lot of reports to write for work (and still do!), I was stuck on what to write about. No use writing if you're not inspired ... This blog has its standards doesn't it?

On the other hand, I have been active on Facebook and had the opportunity to get in touch with some old friends - some even going back to my school days (which in truth are not that long ago!). And as I remind myself of 'those times', the more I realise how much I've changed since then.

However, now that I've become involved in the disability sector - and most importantly being a disability activist - I have no real regrets. Admittedly, I have made it a point to dedicate my time to the things I like such as reading, music and exploring who I am in more depth but inside I still feel I cannot detach myself from my status as 'disabled' without being reminded of this fact!

And how I was reminded! At my office, a man entered red in the face as he saw me passing along and promptly stopped me and showed me the bruises he had on his leg. I looked at him with a puzzled look and then was told, "You people... you wheelchair cases... did this to me..." I left work on that day with a mixture of feelings... I felt angry, frustrated but most of all hurt because that was an insensitive and unjust comment.

For the last month, I've also been reading Stephen Covey's "The 8th Habit" and apart from all it's useful advice, I found that his argument on choice struck a chord. In his book, he argues that we are 'not the products of nature or nurture' but of choice. Granted, there may be many arguments to counter this. For instance, are disabled people that free to choose given the barriers and attitudes that we have to face on a daily basis? Can we really be free to live in a way that our choices come into fruition?

But perhaps the discourse of victimism and blame - that I'm guilty of using (even here) - are not part of the solution but part of the problem. If the residents of Le Court, for example, had given up hope of having justice when they asked Miller and Gwynn for their research support, would there have been a disability movement in the UK? Or if the students at Berkeley (US) hadn't taken any initiative and blamed destiny for their exclusion, would there have been any progress in the US?

Undoubtedly, our 'walk to freedom' (which incidentally is also the title of Mandela's autobiography) requires of us choice to move from being victims to activists, from blaming society to changing society and, more importantly, from choosing not to let society use nature as an excuse for our exclusion.

Now back to the disablist comment of the man I spoke about before. I don't feel the same way I do before. I have every right to be angry. It was indeed an unjust and prejudicial remark to put all wheelchair users in the same box and, on top of that, stereotype us as some kind of 'hazard'. But I should know that this is the price I have to pay for being different. I know it's untrue to be thought of in that way. That is why, I now choose to ignore such remarks but make it a point to change the society which brought on such a mindset. That, I believe, activism is all about ...

For more on the history of the disability movement, you can visit the Leeds Disability Archive

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A dream I had ...

I'm a bird flying over the deep ocean,
I am lost in calm motion.

My white body looks down at the sun
reflected in the blue wavy sea.

No past or future troubles me.
My wings are free in certainty.

I glide to where I do not know.
Yet I do not fear whatever is.

I am a bird.
I am a creature of the world.
Of the universe beyond.

---
Inspired by a dream I had today. Hope you enjoyed it!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Terrible Twos?

This blog has survived another year! However, I don't think that it's time to celebrate that much. I remember starting off with energy and enthusiasm on August 28 of 2006 but the number of people visiting on here has been decreasing steadily since then. At least, that's what the ratings indicate. Am I losing my magical touch? Anyhow, the fact is that there have been many changes in my life which could have impacted on the time and energy I spent on this blog. Not to mention the fact that I also set up a new blog at Cosmos Online... which seemed so easy at first! But ...

But these two years weren't all that bad. I got my much awaited degree. The one I started in 2006. Earlier this year I started working. But, on another level, I feel that this isn't enough. I keep asking myself what direction I should follow. And whether I've taken the right choices in life. I know that I want to improve on the current injustices in our world - especially where disabled people are concerned (but not only). That's for sure.

Yet, I wonder whether I'm doing enough. I'm spending most of my time at work writing reports on different areas concerning disabled people. The more I read, the more I feel guilty for not doing enough. Statistics which reveal disabled people's exclusion from education and employment. Or others which indicate the strong link between poverty and disability. They do make me feel powerless.

On the other hand, I know that I want to make a difference. But then, I think on the many things I need to do to better the quality of my own life. Both are important priorities to me. And, I believe, I cannot separate one from the other. However, it's wrong to assume that the issue of social inequality is particular to disabled people. For instance, as I come to ending the novel "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, I was struck by how easy it's for people to harm each other because of ethnic or religious differences. How war robs people of identity and of dignity. How one wrong decision can affect the lives of many.

Of course, war is one factor that causes impairment. So, in Khaled's account, it's very common to meet children and adults who have acquired impairments through mines and other weapons of war. I cannot come to imagine how we can forget that the war in Afghanistan - in this case - and other wars can affect children and entire families or communities in devastating ways. It's easy to write patriotic sentiments in the comfort of our homes, but those who are easily drawn to war have no idea what a beastly thing they're unleashing on the world. I won't reveal any plots however. Read the book for that.

On the question of where I'm going, I also find that there's a kind of vacuum in terms of relating to other people. True, I get in touch with people at work everyday. I meet people during lectures and events. But apart from the fact it's mostly work, I have been active on online communities here and there. Lately, I have found Connecting Singles to be a good place to spend some time. It says 'free online dating' on the site, but I only got to the free online part so far... but that doesn't bother me much. I am a bit skeptical of online contact...

I think that should do for today. I hope to be able to write over the coming days. If I get a minute to breathe that is ... the heat is still high over here!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learned Dependence

I've spent all morning waiting for a group at a large residential institution to deliver one of my presentations on disability and the social model. The group never turned up and I was told I had come a day earlier. And yes, I was pretty sure that this was the date set which left me angry and frustrated. But I guess the morning wasn't wasted - even if it seemed so at first.

During the time I spent at the grounds of this institution, I had time to reflect. I witnessed the residents, some who had been here all their life, dragging their feet and seemingly unwilling to move that much. True, it was hot... but it was more than that. I chatted with one or two residents and I knew how much I felt out of touch with this environment and the feelings of helplessness that it can transmit.

I'm sure that the staff and assistants working there were doing the best they could. But, inasmuch as dedication or effort they put in, I sensed that over the years - through past administrations - residents had lost the will to choose. And insofar as my past pride would have me feel 'above the residents', I know that if I had lived there for a time, I am certain I would have adopted a submissive and resigned position.

The only tragedy with a life in an institution is not only that you are segregated from the community on the basis of your impairment. But that you are robbed of making real choices and eventually, you don't build a sense of self. After all, isn't your choice and preferences that give you individuality? Losing that would mean forfeiting a unique aspect of who you are.

Whilst many can justify institutions on the basis that some people are 'limited by their impairments', they often ignore that the environment and the attitude of others around you can hinder you from expressing what and who you are. I know that it's difficult to remove long term residents from an institution but I hope that the younger generations of people, especially those with severe impairments, those with intellectual impairments and high complex needs, are given greater support to remain in the community where they belong.

However, the greatest lesson I learned is that much of the dependence we find in the institution is often rooted in learning. Learning that whatever you want will be ignored. Learning that you are not going anywhere if not requested. Learning that the routine is everything and that your autonomy is worthless.

When one staff member mistook me for a resident, I was taken aback. Worse of all, I felt compelled to respond hesitantly as if there was a wrong or right answer to the question - "Would you like the door open or closed?" Admittedly, it was an easy question but the way it was put across made all the difference. And it made me feel that no matter who you think you are, you can easily forget - even for a minute - that you have a choice in what you do.

That's the terrible thing about the whole thing. Learned dependence becomes unconscious and a habit which can be impossible to shake off as the years go by.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tinker, Tailor, Disability Extremist ... ?

Imagine that you had to find a phrase or a set of words to describe yourself… what would they be? This might seem like a trivial exercise but over the last weeks, I had to come up with a suitable response. I cannot chronicle all the events that happened since I wrote that last entry on my graduation experience. The truth of the matter is that things change with time. And I did too!


Yes, I have temporarily moved to my summer house as I do every summer. That meant adjusting, once again, to a more disabling environment and adapt to the new routine. However, hard as it might be, this wasn’t the real problem. The reality was that I felt the need to examine my life in light of the changes happening with my personal and work life.


Ah, there was that other event… Indeed, I was commenting about a local (disabled people-led) organisation conducting a charity event. And I pointed out to the organisers that putting forward the image of disabled people as ‘capable of doing more than our non-disabled peers’ in spite ‘of our ‘physical or intellectual limitations’ (paraphrase) was wrong because it seems to suggest that disabled people, unlike others, must ‘earn’ their rights. Or worse that our value is only guaranteed as long as we are of use to others.


I admit that my criticism could have been worded better. But – in answering my remarks – someone called me a ‘disability extremist’! Now, I would very gladly joke about this adjective. But I don’t see myself as an extremist; unless that means that I am committed to seeing every child and adult, irrespective of any impairment, given equal rights in our society. And to insist that, for this to happen, our societies must adapt in one way or another. That is all I wish and believe in.


So, I cannot agree with images that negate the role of society in perpetuating exclusion and disability in its proper sense. After all, if disabled people remain silent on the way our life is projected, as if our only goal in life was to ‘prove our worth’, then I might as well shut up and prove my worth alone – possibly avoiding any contact with another disabled person (as I used to do).



However, inn spite of the momentary diatribe above, I know that I can offer more than disability activism. The fact is that one doesn’t exclude the other. But even there, we cannot ignore that disability (as social exclusion) permeates itself in all we do:


• in how our art is interpreted,


• in how we do our work and even


• In the simplest of options such as choosing a restaurant!



The last one applies At least for me, when I have to ask in advance whether my wheelchair would get in the venue or not… or if I would be able to use the WC facilities… But I digress…


My question was: How would I describe myself in a few words, then?


Yesterday, my colleagues bought me a mug with the words “Caution: Disability Extremist” printed on the front… yes, as a joke and as one of the presents for my graduation... It had a skull and two crutches replacing the cross bones. Thoughtful…you say? OK, I was a bit irritated. But, alas, this wasn’t the much sought out answer to my question.


I guess that I have to dig deeper into my life as I try to find a meaning to all this. Not to the question, “am I a disability extremist? “But to have an adequate response to the question, “What is the point of it all?” A hard one for the day but it is Sunday...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

TRAVEL, FIRE, WATER CHAMBERS, HAIR, DEGREE MAGIC AND SOME WORDS OF WISDOM




I came in from a direct flight to Malta from Leeds just yesterday. The air travel experience was better than other times and so, there’s no real story there… However, my ‘graduation experience’ was quite exciting and I felt proud to be present during the degree ceremony in Leeds. I must admit that the University of Leeds gave me a lot and, hopefully, I will go on with my studies with this University for my PhD

for a couple of years more. If I stay alive, of course!


Left: Photo of me in my ceremonial dress and new haircut!

However, I want to write about how this unique experience was unique in other ways too. Granted, it was the first time I got a Masters degree and to attend a UK university, but it was also the first time for other things …

TRAVEL

It was the first time I travelled by bus almost daily. My parents thought it was a good idea to use one to save some money spent on accessible taxis when going to the City Centre. I enjoyed the experience of being with other people when commuting!

Unfortunately, the problem with accessible buses is that there are few

places for wheelchair users (only one per bus) and I found myself a bit awkward when a woman using a pram was told to move and put away the pram so that I could fit in. The driver announcing that "Wheelchair users have priority!" didn't sound very nice to me. Apart from that, the fact that

it's obvious that other people might benefit from accessible buses why not have more? And why not increase

available space that, when unused, could be also used as a seating place?

FIRE

Enough of that, fire is the next topic. No, it's not about the episodes of fever I got over my stay in Leeds - yes, I got those too. No, it's about a small fire that broke in our hotel after a man was smoking inn bed at night! I was awake when it happened but only half so. There I was, at 1,30am,

in bed with only my underwear on being bombarded by the sound of a siren sound and not knowing what hit me. Was this a nightmare? It wasn't and I had to dress quickly (ok, sluggishly) and wait for someone to take me down. The stairs... No, the lift couldn't be used and as I waited with my parents on the first floor, two staff members carried me down like a pagan god down the narrow and tall steps. Hot and feverish, I hoped no one would slip.

I was using my manual wheelchair for the trip so I wasn't bothered much by the damage that it could suffer. But me, that's a different story!!! There really should be ways of getting out from buildings in case of fire if you're a wheelchair user. Anyway, after two hours waiting we were given clearance and I could sleep. I ended up wrecked for the whole day as this stress didn't help my fever at all. No, you can’t use fire to fight fire …

WATER CHAMBERS

I forget ... I didn't speak about my room. On the first night, I had booked two rooms for my parents to stay in and one for myself (I need my privacy!) Unfortunately, both rooms were inaccessible to me so I found myself wondering how the hell I was going to get into the bath when morning came. I could manage to get on my high bed, but the bath ... no way! Eventually, I changed my room to an accessible one the next day and I had a walk-in shower which gave me the chance to be clean and happy!

HAIR

Of course, being presentable was one thing I wanted to be since on Thursday 10th I had to attend my graduation ceremony. I was, if I say so myself, very scattered and pensive on the inside but looking good on the outside. After all, this was what I would be getting for my two years studying! And, most importantly, some of my friends would be watching the live web cast ... aaaah! No chance for a bad hair day. So, before the occasion I decided to give Leeds hairdressers some business and cut my hair at the Leeds City Market. I looked cool and ready for the big day!

DEGREE MAGIC

As I had visited the University a few days earlier to know what to do on the day, it was not as

confusing as it would have been otherwise and the campus was quite accessible too (although on few occasions you had to take the long route). I took my dress and photos and proceeded to the actual ceremony. I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole event as it was different than my first degree ceremony back in Malta... The music, the ritual ... it was like being in a Harry Potter movie!

Ok, there was no 'real' magic...

However, people did see me turning on stage from nowhere and then disappearing again into nowhere! This was no trick... as the other graduates used the steps and thus was in full public view; I had to use a lift backstage as if I was Harry Houdini or David Copperfield performing an illusion …

SOME WISDOM

Bah, I did realise how being a wheelchair user sometimes makes you look awkward. But, other times, you can break conventions without really trying or meaning to! For instance, when everyone was instructed to stand up as the deputy chancellor and other staff members came through the Great Hall, I could calmly sit down and grin. No, not wish that I could stand up. Just grin like a naughty Cheshire cat.

Last thing I learned from my trip was about the dilemma of whether you should choose family members as PAs. I took my parents this time round because it was both proper and practical for them to be there and, to kill two birds with one stone, assist me if I needed. In my accessible room I was able to shower and dress but still needed assistance getting around and paying my bills (!). And yes, I love my parents. But, parents or family members, I confirm are not as personal assistance if you plan to take real choices on your life. They mean well, but at times, your wishes come second and you find yourself at odds whether to say something or remain shut to avoid hurting them when you want to decide something. So, even if Parents and PAs have two letters in common - it's best to avoid mixing family and work.

That concludes my account for Leeds. Of course, there were other things and personal stuff going on in my head but some of it is personal and some will fill another post in the future .


I was a bit embarassed to watch my appearance on stage as I took a glimpse at the archived webcast. Really, I stopped watching as soon as I heard my name being announced. no, actually I felt rather anxious again. For those who want to see it, it's ceremony 17 and can be found on the Degree Ceremony webcast page.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A CLOSED CHAPTER OF MY LIFE?

I’ve decided to write a last one before I go to Leeds this Tuesday. To be honest, now that I’ll be officially conferred my Masters in Disability Studies I can’t help but look back at all the events that brought me to this point in time.

It was my visual impairment which forced me to stop doing my original Masters in English. Perhaps that was the second awakening moment in my life when I realised that the fact that I had an impairment had an effect on my position in society and on the way people looked at me. If you recall, my first ‘awakening’ moment was when I realised that even if to my friends I was just another boy, to society I was the ‘poor, dependent, special needs’ child.

From then on, I became involved in learning more about myself and, more importantly, about the way society might be creating problems with people having impairments, until I discovered (so to speak) the ‘social model of disability’. The main concept behind the social model is simple, yet powerful:

Disability is created by a society that takes little or no account of people with impairments.

I can’t possibly explain, in so little time, all the things that have happened to lead me to start studying Disability Studies. However, suffice it to say that the social model and its alternative interpretation of my situation renewed my sense of self-worth and of the crucial importance of rising up against the many misconceptions or exclusive policies that are still the cause of social exclusion and oppression.

I will update you on my Leeds graduation possibly in August as when I get back, I’ll be caught up in so many things!!! But, if you want you can still enjoy reading what Namuh is up to in my story at Cosmos Online. Currently, Namuh is learning about Judaism and learning about good and evil…

I can’t believe that on Thursday 10th July at 1345GMT, I’ll be concluding this chapter of my life. On second thoughts, not really. Some say that it’s only the beginning of more work and hard research (uhm). Incidentally, this ceremony will be broadcast as a live web cast on Thu 10th July at 1345 GMT – if you’re interested (!)

That’s all for now! Wish me luck - I’ve got to catch a plane remember – so I’ll need it!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Here I go ... (Part 2)

Last time, I was discussing how disheartening it was to learn that disabled people in Malta are still unequal in society when it comes to education, employment or living conditions according to National Census figures for 2005...

I feel that apart from the disabling barriers that disabled people face, I cannot fail to mention the effects of our recent history. Although inclusive education has started in Malta as far back as 1994, many disabled people were denied a proper education. Consequently, when disabled people of my generation search for a job, they usually have little education or experience and they are given a polite refusal. It's catch-22...

And besides this, workplaces may be inaccessible to disabled people in the first place or employers are reluctant to have a disabled employee. But that's not always their whole fault. After all, the way we are depicted - as helpless or dependent doesn't help us in the least when we search for jobs... And yes, the fact that we are virtually invisible in society only helps the myths to grow till some disabled people may actually start believing that hey cannot do anything...

You may rightly ask me: but you made it, didn't you? Ah, but you're ignoring the fact that I had the support of family and friends plus I found teachers and people in my life who challenged me. Without all of this support, I would probably be doing something very different and believing that my inability to get a job is because of my impairments... And believe me that is the greatest tragic lie you can believe if you are disabled. Been there…

Finally, I am not sure whether I'll be able to write much or at all in the coming week. That's because I'll be flying to Leeds for my graduation! At long last, on Thursday 10th July I'll officially be awarded my MA in Disability Studies. My parents who thought this would be a good opportunity for a long holiday decided that we should spend two weeks rather than the one I planned would be enough.

I'll try NOT to think of the accumulating workload that'll be waiting for me at the office when I get back. But there's still a week to kill I guess…

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Here I go ... (Part 1)

I'm finding myself immersed in work. OK, it's not like I'm running the country or anything but I've spent the past weeks looking through statistics and data. Apart from the fact that it's quite taxing on my ears and eyes - as I try to read the information with my screen reader as much as possible but, at times, prefer to use my magnifying glass to sort out some data. However, this post is not about my research secrets...

As I look at the data collected from our National Statistics Office Census 2005 results, a rather grim picture of the situation of disabled people emerges. I don't mean this morning to start you off with sad news. But I was rather dismayed to discover that:

1. There is significantly low employment amongst disabled people.

2. Many have attained little in terms of education

3. A large amount do not have access to the internet and

4. Lack adequate access to decent living conditions

Of course, I'm looking at these figures together with a colleague of mine. And I cannot as yet make any claims. On the other hand, many of the issues creating these realities can be traced to the fact that disabled people have unequal access to society.

If I take my life as an example, some things I cannot access include:

- Public transport - yes there are some 100 buses that are accessible but I cannot rely on them to get to work or go anywhere.

- accessing some buildings or going out where I want - Indeed, last Wednesday I almost fell from a pavement into the road after I was trying to get to the pavement (no, I wasn't on a suicide mission).

- some information is difficult for me to access - Since I've still got my visual impairment (currently unstable), I do still find sites that are difficult for me to access and sometimes I just give up!

Hang on for Part 2!

Friday, June 13, 2008

We're not being fair ... and Friday the 13th?

We're not being fair ...

Well, finally I found some time to write. Remember the last post when I submitted the press release the Maltese Council of Disabled Persons sent? At least one newspaper reported our statement. I did get a bit annoyed that, on commenting, one of the organisers stated that we were being “unjust and unfair”. So, is it fair for us to be portrayed as helpless individuals? Is it just for an NGO claiming to ‘help us’ achieve a better quality of life, to portray us in such a way as to render our life seem less than human? You draw your own conclusions:

“… However, the fundraising event was lambasted by the Maltese Council of Disabled Persons which criticised adverts promoting Charity 12 for giving the impression that having an impairment was a tragedy.

The council said whether disabled people could do things or not did not depend on their impairment, but on the "disabling obstacles and attitudes we face on a daily basis".

Reacting to the statement, Razzett said the criticism was "unfair and unjust". It explained that the organisation's mission was to improve the quality of life of people with physical and learning disabilities by focusing on the individual's abilities and promoting inclusion and independence.

It said the promotional material referred by the council was designed to show the public the challenges faced by people with disabilities and that most of these difficulties were created by society itself. It also served to showcase the hard work undertaken by the organisation, its staff and volunteers to enhance the potential of its clients.

Razzett chief executive Nathan Farrugia said he agreed with the council's views that disabled people were equally capable of achieving high levels of independence and self-worth and that equal opportunities were often restricted by policy and accessibility issues. He said that practical solutions were necessary to ensure that the gap between the present state of affairs and the ideal is bridged.

"Our services are aimed at just that; a means of support for those who need to prepare themselves physically through our leisure facilities, mentally through our self improvement and learning activities and socially through our integrated activities for the reality of today. Services which, thanks to the generosity of the Maltese public, have no financial, physical or psychological barriers," he said.

(extracted from: “The Sunday Times of Malta”, 8 June 2008 : Thousands Raised for Charity).

FRIDAY THE 13TH

Obviously, as today happens to be Friday 13th, I can’t help but share with you some events that cannot be easily explained off.

First, as I was getting ready for a conference, a man using his mobile phone some seats back was talking on his mobile phone. With someone on the other side! He was telling him that he was worried that his children might not see him on TV, as this conference would probably be reported for the evening news. Why? Basically, he told his friend that a ‘handicapped’ person might be blocking him… I wonder whom he was referring to…

Then, a doctor came to me and told me how much he ‘loved’ people like me and assured me that even if I was unfortunate for not being able to walk I was fortunate in other areas which begs the question – was I fortunate in meeting him or not? A definite nope!

So those events convinced me that there is such a thing as bad luck on Friday 13th but only if you happen to be at the bad place with the wrong company…

And I'm sorry to report that

there is nothing supernatural with these events, except that they happened in the same place in a short period of time. But may be it's me ... sigh!

Friday, June 06, 2008

MCoDP PressRelease: Charity Fundraiser

The following press release issued by MCoDP is a reaction to recent charity fund raising by an NGO which gives training and therapy services to disabled people.

In their ad, they encourage viewers or listeners to ask themselves whether they would be able to do things if "they couldn't walk, see or hear". Following this, the public is told that instead of feeling sorry for people like ... err ... me, they should donate something to their charity. However, the irony of it all that in the process, our value as disabled people - especially our competence and worth- is put into question. Here's the press release:






Maltese Council of Disabled Persons
Kunsill Malti tal-Persuni b’Dizabilita



“Xejn Dwarna Minghajrna!” - “Nothing about us without us!"


Top: Full title, slogan and logo of MCoDP - Hexagon divided into six triangles filled with the colours (clockwise) yellow, pink, green, light blue, violet and red respectively - each colour representing the six main impairment groups.




The Maltese Council of Disabled Persons (McoDP) objects to the way the Razzett tal-Hbiberija is undertaking its fundraising campaign. In one advert promoting its Charity 12 campaign, we are given the impression that having an impairment is a tragedy and that our life as disabled people is less than that of others in our society. Our members, who have a wide range of impairments, including physical, sensory and intellectual impairments, feel that this is a distortion of our experience and that such advertising may do more harm than good in the long term.



Indeed, Asking the public whether they would be able to do the things they did today if they had a physical, visual or hearing impairment does not help in the cause of disabled people. Admittedly, Razzett offers some disabled people with services and training that may assist in developing their potential, but these services do not replace the real changes that we need to have in society to achieve equality. Moreover, given the proper means and support, disabled people are not ‘limited’ by their impairments as this advert Implies.



In fact, Our experience as disabled people reveals that whether we can do things or not does not depend on whether we have an impairment but is often hampered by the disabling obstacles and attitudes we face on a daily basis. In addition, such advertising has negative effects on our entry into the labor market as many young disabled people are finding themselves being rejected for employment.



We strongly urge all organizations of and for disabled people to avoid portraying us in a negative manner, thereby undermining our legitimate claims to be part of our society and communities and to adopt positive fundraising imagery developed through direct consultation with established disabled activists who are also themselves disabled persons.



Gordon C. Cardona (President)

Maltese Council of Disabled Persons (McoDP)

Monday, June 02, 2008

A DARK CHAPTER OF MY PAST (PART 2)

In my last post, wasn’t implying that IQ tests aren’t measuring something. But I don’t believe it’s intelligence as such but is only gauging into a very limited definition of intelligence. After all, these tests emerge out of a set of criteria established by a culturally-influenced science. It also assumes that intelligence depends on the ability to write or read – and generally assumes that people who are taking the test are able to see or hear.


Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should disregard any differences or qualities in each person. Indeed, I’m not advocating that everyone is the ‘same' but that everyone should be equal. Obviously, there are people with which I may feel more comfortable expressing parts of me. After all, I have my tastes and dislikes! Yet, it is in valuing our diversity and in giving everyone the opportunity to grow at his/her own pace that humanity would really be said to have improved. And the fact that some differences are regarded as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ doesn’t mean that those making such claims are right or that their opinion should set limits to the rights of others – as is happening today – in spite of arguments that favour diversity and human rights!


Indeed, it is very dangerous for people to be defined in terms of their perceived intelligence. On the other hand, I believe that as far as education is concerned, the information and teaching presented should be compatible with the way the student learns best. However, tailor-made education is not always practiced in education as well as it should be. In addition, IQ tests’ use in education should be reassessed as such tests only risk to place children or adults into boxes (whether it be ‘gifted’ or ‘intellectually impaired’) that do nothing but create fertile ground for expectations about the person whilst ignoring the person as a whole.

Well, that’s my confession! I tried taking an IQ test lately for fun but, as expected, I scored lower than average! I’m really not surprised since my vision isn’t that great right now. And perhaps it’s also a form of poetic justice that should teach me to look beyond what science might say about me. And believe me, I’ve been told that my medical history alone can fill in for the first volume ..

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A DARK CHAPTER OF MY PAST (PART 1)

I spent the best of this week sick with high fever. I barely had enough energy to write or do anything ‘constructive’ – perhaps may be doing an odd job or two on my other blog . However, since I launched this project, I cannot help but reflect on the past and how I’ve changed since. On the other hand, I have realised that some of the things that I believed then and liked to do then are still important to me. Of course, there are things (like my writing) that I’m proud of but others that I feel rather ashamed of.


For instance, in my attempt to feel part of ‘something’ bigger than myself, I joined societies that you might term ‘elitist’. In fact, as recent as 2001, I was part of the International High IQ Society – it was still known as the New York High IQ Society when I joined. I got in after successfully completing an IQ test and was formally accepted as a member. On their records, I'm still a member but, ironically, their site is inaccessible to visually impaired people!


Now that I think about this part of my past, I recognize that joining this society was a way by which I could feel better about myself – and yes, ‘superior’ than other people! More importantly, it was a sure move to embracing the view of science (or the medical model) – that ‘impairment was the cause of all my problems’. To compensate for my perceived lack, I resorted to clinging to a scientific test that validated me as a person. Then, it must be said, I had a lot of faith in 'scientific truth'..


Its hard for me to write about this dark chapter of my past. Today, I am aware of the history of IQ tests and how they were used to sterilise, or even exterminate, various groups of people, including disabled people (especially people with an intellectual impairment), racial/ethnic minorities and groups that didn’t score well on the test. In fact, IQ tests cannot be separated from the eugenic movement - which purportedly sought out to ‘purify the human stock’. Sadly, this subtle implication of an IQ test is still lost on schools and is generally held to be an ‘objective’ measure of intelligence (for a good background of IQ test’s origins read the article Rethinking Schools).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

FASCISM AGAIN?

I can’t help but worry about the recent developments taking place in Italy. Not just because it’s not that far away from Malta but that it’s also part of the European Union. I’m of course writing about the recent rise of Silvio Berlusconi to power. And the silence about some of his policies...

Indeed, as I write, a large number of gipsy immigrants are being persecuted. Many have been living in Italy for a large number of years. Effectively, non-Italian immigrants are being blamed for many of Italy’s problems. The high crime rate for example.

To me, Berlusconi is following in the footsteps of fascism but only few people seem to be worried about this or even seem to care.

The fact is that this persecution of minorities can be said to be a way of distracting Italians from the real problems and instead finding a scapegoat for all social ills.

One of the reasons is that Berlusconi is also the owner of three major television stations in Italy – which means he has considerable power and influence on the Italian public. Over here in Malta, we do get “Berlusconi’s” channels (Canale 5,Italia 1 and Rete 4) and, I admit, I have followed them since childhood. However, this xenophobic policy aimed to rid Italy of ‘non-Italians’ has made me wonder about the things I have consumed over the years. In addition, I wouldn’t want to keep backing the man – even indirectly. You should read an interesting article on Berlusconi’s new fascism written by an Italian Ignacio Ramonet, which should set people in Europe seriously thinking about this new development in Italy.

I have read about the rise of fascism in Italy before the war. Unfortunately, it seems that it may happen again. The fact that it has already happened in the 1930s with Mussolini doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. But perhaps today the stakes are even higher as we enter into a new globalise world were those who control the media may also control the world.. then, we might forget all about human rights
to begin with!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

THE JOURNEY BEGINS (AND CONTINUES) ...



Yesterday was one of those days when I have to go for a medical checkup at hospital. Thankfully, these days are very rare but the experience has improved considerably over the past. Not that I'm keen on going to hospital for a visit. The moment I set foot, err wheels, there it feels like you've entered into another dimension. Now that we have a new hospital, the experience can even be more surreal. After all, there you may find a high concentration of wheelchair users and, of course, elderly people who use wheelchairs but insist they're not 'disabled'!

Yes, you read that last one right. As I was waiting for my ophthalmic appointment, an old man on a wheelchair was being brought in the waiting room. Once he stopped near the seats, he told the lady pushing him that she could take the wheelchair back as he could walk and didn't need it any more. Granted, it was true. He proceeded to sit down using his walking stick and waited like the rest of us. To be honest, if I had been in his position a few years ago, I might have done the same thing. Indeed, I think I might have protested that I didn't 'need' the wheelchair because of the fear of being identified as a disabled person. I should have seen myself then ... today. I fear I wouldn't have approved that much...

The fact is that there are so many bad things associated with disability... I've heard a couple over the last week or two. But the saddest one is when you hear disabled people describe themselves as 'sufferers'. Granted, medical conditions such as my own do involve a certain degree of physical pain (currently it's under control). However, I do not want to define myself as a 'sufferer' for the simple reason my life is not all about pain. In fact, pain is just one tiny aspect of who I am.

Don't start me on that or I'll inflate my ego... anyway, my doctor gave me a clean bill of health (within what is 'normal' for me) whilst I have to make some important decision over my right eye's future... so that's that!

Well, besides my work and the daily routine to distract me, there's also my new blog. In fact, I have started posting on my new blog Cosmos Online. It was hard designing the layout and all that for this blog but thanks to some features of blogger, I can now prepare the posts to be published over the weekend and only update the contents page once in a while.

No, I don't want to start discussing the technicalities of writing a blog. It's not the purpose of this space. Although, on second thoughts, isn't stress bad for me?