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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

TAKING A STAND

Personal reflections on a history of a press release

Part 3 (click here for Part 1)

FINAL HOPES AND THOUGHTS

In my last entry I related my personal experience on how it was like to live in an institutional setting. However, it’s important to keep in mind the reason that I started writing this post entry in the first place – the press release. I believe that this was the only option we had since our objection to MLP's proposal had reaped nothing. A day after our press release was issued, the National Commission Persons with a Disability (KNPD), which is a government commission set up to safeguard the interests of disabled people (and my current employer), issued its own statement expressing its concerns over the MLP proposal:

KNPD criticises Labour proposal (7 Feb 2008)

However, the position on this issue seems to have remained unchanged as far as MLP is concerned. In fact, we read that the leader of the Labour party Dr Alfred Sand openly defended this decision:

Sant defends position to house social cases, disabled at St Luke’s (14 Feb 2008)

Since this issue was brought up, a few disabled people have publicly voiced their concerns on the possibility of creating yet another institution:


St Luke's for disabled persons (2) (11 Feb 2008)

Units for disabled persons (20 Feb 2008)


I can only say that the support of other disabled people against this issue fills me with hope. On the other hand, I cannot avoid thinking about the implications of such a measure on us as disabled people and on a society which has just started to accept the idea that we’re part of it. Given the Maltese political tradition has been characterised by sharp divisions mainly between the MLP and the Nationalist Party (PN) – in government since 1987 (except for 1996 till 1998) – issues tend to be given a political interpretation. And as I stated, disability should never be a politically divisive issue.


Having said that, if I were to give an account of how disabled people fared under PN administration, I would say that much has improved for us in terms of rights and opportunities. The Equal Opportunities Act which gives us a tool to protect against discrimination in many areas of life (including the built environment, education and employment) and a drive towards inclusive education (to mention just two) have taken place during this administration. Undeniably, both the MLP and the PN backed up these efforts to promote inclusion unanimously. Therefore, it was rather risky to state our position against institutionalisation, which according to what I know also flies in the face of true socialism – but that’s another matter.


As it happens, the current PN leader Dr Lawrence Gonzi also served as the president of the KNPD itself for a time, so it is unsurprising perhaps that disabled people have moved forward in this administration. This is also reflected in the measures proposed in the PN electoral manifesto 2008.


The measures being proposed are the following:


  • to introduce new schemes to increase the employment of disabled people (246)
  • to strengthen community support for disabled people (247)
  • to continue supporting KNPD as a means to safeguard the rights of disabled people (248)
  • to provide more support to organisations working in the interests of disabled people (249)
  • to continue in current efforts to make the built environment and transport accessible to all (250)
  • to make the necessary changes required so that the UN Convention on the Human Rights of Disabled People is ratified (251)


Effectively, proposition 247 also criticises the MLP motion that proposes the restructuring of St Luke’s to house disabled people. Of course, I’m aware that the propositions listed will take time to come to fruition. However, the approach to disability issues demonstrated especially by proposition 251 is radically different to the position adopted by its opposing party.


Incidentally, a recent study on institutional life conducted in the European Union has concluded that disabled people who live in an institution tend to lead a poor quality of life, so it really makes no sense to even suggest a return to such a system. This same report called Deinstitutionalisation and Community Living also suggests that EU member states should work for the inclusion of disabled people in the community rather than promoting institutional settings.


In fact, the report points out that community services tend to cost less and ensure better quality to disabled people in the long term than an institutional setting. Naturally, this report also highlights the importance of involving all stakeholders to make such a transition from residential institutions to community life. More importantly, the report illustrates that it makes more economical sense to move from the institutional model to a community model for everyone.


As stated already, these entries do not mean to politicise the issue of disability, but my aim is simply to point out that proposing institutionalisation as a solution is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. These entries are also based on my individual views on this issue, so they don't write on behalf of MCoDP either. However, I hope that Maltese disabled people will agree, at least, that institutionalisation is a backward step for all of us.


Indeed, I remember how I felt when I read an article from a Maltese far right extremist stating that ‘disabled people are valuable members … just as long as they are stopped from breeding more of their kind”. I’m not saying that the MLP proposition comes close to such bigoted views, but it could once again open the doors to the idea that disabled people do not belong in the community. That we are, in some way, a threat to the social order – and so must be provided for separately. Or even feared and detested.


Finally, it doesn’t really make much difference what impairment one has. I believe that institutio, nalisation is wrong not just for people with a physical impairment, but also for people with sensory, intellectual and mental health issues. Arguments that seek to justify institutionalisation by arguing that it will only be for ‘specific’ impairment groups only servse, in my view, to separate disabled people. Indeed they attempt to distract us from recognising that disability affects us all – albeit in different ways.


I wrote here against institutionalisation out of real concern and, yes, fear. Indeed, it is a pity that so few disabled people talked against this propisal. But not speaking, for me at least, would mean that I would be leaving others with an opportunity to take away my rights as my silence would seem to imply agreement. What would I be saying by remaining quiet?


I would be accepting the segregation of other disabled people. Until, of course, it is my turn to give up my rights to live in my own society with equal rights. To speak. To dream. To live independently with support. Or even to start a family of my own. The implications posed by institutionalisation are too great a threat to simply ignore!

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