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

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

OPINION:

No to institutionalisation, yes to inclusion!



Gordon C. Cardona


As a disabled person, I wish to declare my objection to the approved Labour motion proposing that converted parts of St Luke's Hospital be used to house disabled people with no family support.


As disabled people, our place is in the community. The proposition can only lead to renewed segregation and institutionalisation, thus undermining the rights we have achieved through legislation such as the Equal Opportunities Act (2000). It will also make it more difficult to push forward the necessary changes to ensure that our social inclusion continues taking place.


Although the MLP have assured us that these will be single units within the old hospital, this argument is far from convincing. As some other disabled people have pointed out, there is no real reason why these units should be located at St Luke's itself. They would be better placed in our villages and towns.


The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the motion is regarding us solely in terms of our impairments. This is emphasised by the fact that the place identified happens to be a former state hospital. Those approving this MLP motion cannot be fully aware that placing a significant number of disabled people in one location is only the first step to turning this place into an institution - in spite of any safeguards taken to prevent this from happening.


Moreover, those who have first-hand experience of an institutional setting know what it really implies. For me, it was a time when I had to give up the right to choose for myself even the most basic things. There could be no privacy; I had virtually no control over what I did during the day. In an institutional setting, you have to adapt to the needs of the staff, which tends to make you more dependent on others, or to start believing that you are a problem and of less value than other people.


Are you prepared to give up your right to decide on what you eat and when or even giving up your choice in matters involving your personal hygiene? Are you ready to adapt to a system that is beyond your control and which, by its very nature, undermines your autonomy and personal freedom? Would you be prepared to relinquish your social networks or who you spend your time with in your own home? What about your right to have a partner or a family of your own?


Indeed, do we want disabled children to run the risk of seeing themselves as "burdens" on society? Do we want non-disabled children to grow up learning that their disabled friends at school will not enjoy the opportunity of having a job, or a fulfilling social life, because they happen to be different than them? Do we want the disabling attitudes, which have just begun to crumble, to make a comeback?


It doesn't matter what impairment we might have when it comes to institutionalisation. It is unacceptable to me as a physically disabled person and is equally unacceptable to people who have sensory or intellectual impairments. I feel that segregation through institutionalisation can only return us to a state where disabled people are just seen in terms of their impairments - to be once again excluded from society.


Additionally, it is worrying that the MLP has also chosen to ignore the advice of the National Commission Persons with a Disability (KNPD) and that of the Maltese Council of Disabled Persons (MCoDP), which have both publicly declared their objection to this proposal. In this sense, I am worried that, on a matter that directly affects our future, our voices (and that of our representatives) have been disregarded.


Finally, we should keep in mind that thinking in terms of institutions today signifies a regression in our quality of life as disabled people. Indeed, a recent EU study urges European countries to consider promoting more community based services for disabled people rather than sustaining institutional structures. The report, Deinstitutionalisation And Community Living, confirms that not only do institutions tend to offer poor quality services and expose disabled people to conditions that infringe their basic human rights but tend to be also more expensive in the long term. On the other hand, community living options provide better services to us and may be inexpensive if these services involve every stakeholder in the planning stage. The study can be downloaded from:


http://www.kent.ac.uk/tizard/research/DECL_network/Project_reports.html.


Maltese disabled people have progressed in terms of living in the community thanks to such agencies as AgenzijaSapport.However, we should build on these positive changes to ensure that the process of inclusion continues. We cannot remain complacent and not speak out against measures that undermine our rights. We should say no to institutionalisation and yes to inclusion in the community.


Source: The Times of Malta, Wednesday, 5th March 2008.


References:


Timesofmalta.com (5/3/2008) “No to institutionalisation, yes to inclusion!” in Opinion. Available from: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080305/opinion/no-to-institutionalisation-yes-to-inclusion (Accessed 5 March 2008)


This article also appeared in the Letters section of The Malta Independent, of the same date and can be accessed on the Independent Online at: http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=66006


Personal Note:


To be honest, I didn’t expect this to get published on both of the papers I sent it too. But there you are. However, my only hope is that my concerns and that of other disabled people on the dangers of policies, which can very easily lead to institutionalisation. But the article says it all.

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