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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

LIFE ON MARS?


Last Wednesday, I started watching the BBC series “Life on Mars”. The series is about a police officer Sam Tyler who has a car accident and ends up in a coma… which ‘takes’ him back to 1973. Admittedly, a friend had suggested watching the series a few weeks ago, but I was slightly put off by the title and yes, didn’t get around to watch it. Which meant that I had to catch up on the story’s background as I went along as I discover, to my dismay that I should have followed on my friend’s suggestion. Fortunately, I did manage to figure out what was happening to Sam Tyler and all that. Indeed, I caught myself thinking about some of the story’s implications…


Right: Image of Mars - the red planet

Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech




Even if the idea of using the coma experience to create new worlds wasn’t a new one to me, it’s interesting that the world Tyler has found himself in is the same Earth with the only difference that it’s a world of 30 years ago! In spite of the fact that Sam is transported back in time, and knows of the future (which adds a comic slant to the series), he retains the police job he had (or will have?) in the 21st century. At the same time, as he is ‘now’ working in his old neighbourhood, we anticipate meeting his ‘younger’ self too.


On the other hand, if I think about it, the story is set when I was minus 8 years old? – Oh my … I didn’t even exist then! So that’s one thing that we often forget … that there was a time before us when we weren’t even here … and our world has changed a lot over the centuries. Then, if it wasn’t for the many things our ancestors thought of or worked to achieve, our life would have been very different. It’s just today that we can say that a mobile phone is a common gadget, or that we can watch live images of protests in Tibet or follow the news as they happen in real time! Without really waiting that much…


This global technological revolution started steadily accelerating around the end of World War II. Yet, we sometimes fail to appreciate (or forget) how much of history still affects us … Indeed, Our democracy, our technology and everything we can conceive today has its roots in the past! In fact, we cannot speak of the ‘present world’ without referring to history - at least as far as humanity is concerned...



Thus, we have to pose ourselves other questions. What about the authenticity of our individuality? How much of myself can I claim to be my own? My ‘self-definition’ as a person, including my membership in the disabled community … are these actually ‘my choice'? What about the beliefs I have or the things I like doing … are they ‘my own’? Would I find it so enjoyable to type away at my laptop if it hadn’t been for a series of events that made writing and computers possible?


Yes, this includes factors ranging from having the correct conditions for life to develop on Earth, and having access to food and resources – and having a stable infrastructure to use the net (I skipped a lot of things here) … But, then again, how many people living in the majority world (or what was formerly known as the ‘third world’) can claim to be living the same living conditions I have right now? And here, there is the issue concerning justice and quality of life. Who are histories winners, and losers, and what does this say about our position in history as individuals and as a society? Can we remain unconcerned with the lack of social justice and the improper distribution of wealth?


As our mobile phones, PDAs or gadgets might appear ‘alien’ to a person living in the 1970s, so would our values or traditions appear to someone living in parts of the majority world. On the other hand, there are many things we share with each other which is often forgotten. People then, there, here and now are still facing the same issues and challenges humanity has had to confront for millennia. We still need food, shelter and to have friends and partners. We are born and succumb to death as our ancestors did. We still face disease, and other natural disasters. What might have vastly changed – mainly in the Western world – is the way we relate to these changes. I am not about to embark on any moral debate here, but it appears that we have tried to ‘control’ rather than adapt to our environment. The fact that we are toying with the idea of creating human-animal hybrids – which I hope to tackle another day – should say it all…


Interestingly, the series’ title derives from a song by David Bowie with the same name. My friend, who originally suggested that I tuned in to the series, told m that “Life on Mars?” was one of Bowie’s hits (apart from the fact that she is a Bowie fan too) – so there! Thanks to You Tube, I could watch the video of the original song and I also tracked down the lyrics for Bowie’s hit. I find that the song speaks about things happening today as well. In fact, in this song, Bowie seems to be foreseeing a more globalise world and lamenting that much of the culture of his day was being Americanized:





Now that I write 35 years later, I am not sure whether I can agree that Americanization has happened (if mine is a correct interpretation) – although I recognise that the US has had and still has considerable influence on global affairs. Those are the facts, whether it is good or bad is another matter. However, the question is whether we can really think of ourselves without referring, or acknowledging, the efforts of past generations and the effects of our own past on who we are today… And, yes, I ask whether if things had been slightly different aeons ago, whether there would be a human society to write about.


In this sense, what I feel might be a real danger in our technological advances is that we lose touch with our past, preferring to build new things without looking back to learn from our mistakes. In my view, it’s not only the environmental crisis that we might be heading for that should worry us but also a certain apathy and indifference to attempts at changing the course of our biology. Are we really ready to outsmart nature? And perhaps, after we have managed to destroy ourselves, nature would have it that new life would start developing on Mars … and laugh us off …

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PICKING THE RIGHT FIGHT


Why do I choose to remain a disability activist? After all, if I look back I remember that I feel strongly about other issues. I am pro-life, and strongly believe in diversity in all its forms! I am also concerned by the current world situation, such as issues related to world poverty, global warming, international conflict, and, of course, with human rights abuses. I think that if my situation had been different, you might have seen me writing a blog on multiculturalism or something on similar lines.


I could do that. But given that a day has 24 hours which I must divide between work, rest and personal stuff… then I am afraid that I can only afford to concentrate my energy on fighting disability. I believe that disability, like gender and race, is created by the way society works. Indeed, I don’t seek to be merely 'accepted' in spite of my impairment. I want to be accepted as I am because, I believe, negating my impairment would be denying part of who I am. I'm not saying that it's all of who I am but it's been many a time when I had been put in a position to feel 'ashamed' of my body! After all, I’m really not a ‘no-body’!!!


Jokes apart, it is often the case that disabled people are regarded as ‘nobodies’. Especially when you consider that some public buildings remain inaccessible with owners finding the most petty of excuses to leave them unchanged... When you consider that it is very difficult to find a job after they discover that you have an impairment... When you become more aware of the fact that there is a risk that people don’t get you as a person, preferring to remain blissful in their prejudice and assumptions about your life, your character and about your 'happiness' in life. But you know what is worse than all of that?


To hear a mother, speaking to you on the phone about her disabled child, saying to you “well, you see, he’s a total loss”.

No, it’s not an appliance she’s talking about. Yes, she’s talking about Her own child!

Before hastily judging the mother, we should think about the reasons why she might have chosen those words. Perhaps she actually believed what she was saying... She might have believed that since her child couldn't walk (in this situation), he has no real future in society. It is on hearing such things that I feel compelled to go on fighting... For what?


For a future when having an ascribed impairment does not leave you with feelings of inadequacy or of inferiority.


When it would be ‘normal’ to have an impairment and get on in life.

For a future when parents do not refer to their own children as if they were mere objects or bundles of problems!


To stop the violence that propagates disabling attitudes and leaves the disabling structures of our society unaltered.

After all, I was also a disabled child once. If I think about it, people at the time might have easily assumed that I was a ‘total loss’ too! If the person who spoke to me knew that I was (literally) in a similar position to her son's, I wonder whether she would have picked another phrase to describe her son's situation ...


Thankfully, I had parents who supported me and found friends who believed in me. At least enough to get me where I am now. Inasmuch as I would like to fight for other causes, I find myself needing to recognise in me the value of being a person because of my impairments - not in spite of them. In effect, to recognise that the problems I might face in society are not my 'fault' and that my situation is not a question of 'bad luck as some would have it! Admittedly, I still battle against the negative messages that I have received as a child.I guess that these memories will still emerge - especially when I feel I failed in something or when I'm downright sad.I don't want to see disabled children living now go through the same self-doubt and to grow up with feelings of inadequacy and of unworthiness as I did. Yes, I don't even want them to learn about the dark side of being labelled 'special'. The feeling of being set apart because you're physically or intellectually different through a seemingly innocent term - which is really a destructive euphemism. To be aware that even if you feel human and part of society, on switching on the radio or TV, you might be made to feel awkward as if you are not part of the human race.

Which brings me back to my original question, why did I choose to fight for the cause of disability as an activist? I guess it’s because I believe that every individual, has the right to be given the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential. It's a conviction that it's not my impairment which limits me in life when it comes to my participation in society but rather how society has failed to include me. It's a struggle like that of women, who are still not fully included because society is still geared to the needs of man. It is akin to the struggle of black people in my country who still face in certain situations implicit or explicit evidence of racism. It is like the struggle of people having different beliefs. It's also like the issues underlying the gay movement.

And yet, it's about other things. It's about recognising that impairment is not the problem. It's highlighting the fact that in order for people with impairments to be included, society must adapt to include us. We're saying that like sexism, homophobia, xenophobia are wrong, disability is too! Not because there's anything intrinsically wrong with women, gay people, or black people, or with people having different beliefs - but because these '-isms' pose serious limits to who we are and to our chances in life.

I do not want to detach myself from my world. Indeed, I have felt strongly about the injustices that I hear and read about daily. And yet, I cannot fight for the cause of other people without recognising that I have to fight for the rights of people who face the same 'disability' I face. However, not fighting for other causes I believe in does not mean I cannot be part of the solution.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

EASTER …


What should I write about on Easter? Well, initially I thought of looking at how Easter itself would be meaningless if it were not for the many events that brought this feast to the West. Indeed, Easter cannot be truly separated from a combination of events and ideas – including Judaeo-Christian and pagan ones. But then, I said to myself what does this really say about Easter today?


Oddly enough, my attention was drawn to Easter Island. Honestly, why was it called Easter Island in the first place? Was there a particular reason for this tiny island in Polynesia to be given the name of “Easter island”? Well, I was disappointed to find out that the name for the island was chosen since the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722 – you guessed it - he discovered it on Easter Sunday of the same year! Since then, many titles have been given to the island, including Rapa Nui which is probably the most widely known alternative name. Learning about the name left me with some disappointment. It was as if on opening an Easter egg, I discover there was no toy inside! Obviously, that was when I was a child so nowadays I don’t expect a toy inside anymore (!) But I digress…


On discovering this rather unexciting fact about the origins of the name, I looked at the gigantic stone heads that covered parts of the island and was taken back to a time when I had looked with awe at these achievements as a child. The same way I had viewed the pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China (more on China later...). Without fully understanding the cultures or societies that built these structures, I knew that it had a lot of significance for those who built them. Or at least, they wanted to leave their mark on the world!



Left: close up of the Maoi, a giant stone figure depicting a head – probably of an ancient god.


Indeed, I cannot help being fascinated by these giant Maoi statues today. However, although archaeologists disagree on the ways these structures were built or on who built them, one fact was sure: they would come at a high price. Indeed, it appears that in order for the ancient islanders to sustain the building of these structures, they might have caused damage to the island’s ecosystem which amongst other things forced them to be ‘stuck’ on the island. As the material needed to build crafts depleted, so their options to fish. As this happened, they put more stress on farming and agriculture which surely led to soil erosion … etc. etc.


So, the point is that in an attempt to set themselves apart from the other tribes who probably lived on the other islands of Polynesia, Easter islanders were sowing the seeds of their own destruction - or rather killing the seeds that would permit them to continue living as they were doing before. Which brings me back to Easter! In fact, it is perhaps surprising to us that the name ‘Easter’ probably derives from the pagan goddess of Eastre. Besides that, many languages have different names for the same feast ranging from our Maltese ‘L-Ghid il-Kbir’ which I am told should mean the ‘Great Feast’ to the Italian ‘Pasqua’. These examples demonstrate a change of emphasis. However, what is shared by pagan and religious ideas is the idea of rebirth (in pagan myth) and resurrection (in its Christian counterpart). This idea of change and of a new start seems to be the intrinsic message at the centre of the feast. Unfortunately, as we are preoccupied by things such as catching the Easter bunny, or rather on keeping with the accelerated rate of a changing world, the possibility that all we have will someday cease to exist rarely presents itself. Perhaps, before it’s too late…


AND TIBET

Right: Flag representing Tibet


Yes, my late posts seem to follow in my concern with impermanence and with my search for what is of ‘value’. But if I think about how easy it was for the inhabitants of Easter Island to forget that their resources would eventually deplete – unless they replenished them – then I do not think my questions are wasted. Indeed, another culture is being threatened as I write right now. But, like the ancient Easter islanders, the threatening forces are far from natural, but are entirely human in origin. Of course, I am talking about the plight of the Tibetan people. However, the main difference is that people in Tibet have been systematically discriminated against by the Chinese government.


Of course, we depend on media reporting to get to know of the facts. But, unfortunately, the Chinese administration has not been an example when it comes to respecting the human rights of its own people. I sincerely hope that there is a better future for Tibet in light of a history of oppression. However, given that today we should be remembering renewal and change, it might also be worthwhile to hope this change not just for people living in Tibet but to other Chinese people living in mainland China, including people who hold particular beliefs or for the millions of aborted girls and disabled foetuses brought forward by its one-child-per-family policy.


In our corner of the world, we have the luxury of accessing this information from the comfort of our own offices. However, I hope that we can still make a difference to the cause by signing an online petition hosted by AVAAZ.com:



Stand with Tibet - Support the Dalai Lama



I signed it yesterday! Ultimately, we won’t have control over what will eventually happen in Tibet but at least we’re doing something. However, perhaps what is that I wanted to say on this cold Sunday is that it’s important to me that I continue asking myself the right questions without being too preoccupied with the unimportant things in life. What do I wish to achieve right now? Where am I heading? What should matter to me? What should I value? And, finally, what is my passion and mission in this life?


So there’s your Easter post… hope you liked it!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

VANITY OF VANITIES!

PART 2



Yesterday I left you rather abruptly. I had some other things on my mind you see and, yes, hunger was one of them. But let me return now to the reasons why I started writing this post entry in the first place. Undoubtedly, the idea of uncertainty and impermanence were brought home once again when the idea of institutionalisation for disabled people was being proposed as part of a political manifesto. But now as I have explained, this threat is, for now, ‘old history’. Indeed now that I have one thing less to worry about, I should be celebrating and sipping my tea as I relax and watch another episode of my favourite comedy.


But, really, it’s too early for that. And given today happens to be a holiday, I’d rather finish this entry. Besides that, I would like to ask myself questions on why people come to such tragic conclusions about someone else’s life without knowing them. Why, for example, are people so easily charmed into accepting a truth that is really a lie? Why do people see injustice around them and remain silent? Why do people ignore inequality as long as it doesn’t affect them? And, more crucially, why do I sometimes do these things myself? Indeed, I cannot point my fingers at others before taking a good look at myself.


And why all these thoughts all of a sudden? While it’s true that we’re celebrating Easter and I cannot escape being reminded of that fact as I follow the local news, there are more mundane reasons for asking these questions. Well, a few days ago, fireworks stored illegally in a residential area exploded killing two people and ruining houses nearby. Needless to say, this event changed and destroyed lives.


Was it the result of one irresponsible man who thought it safe to store highly explosive material in his own garage? Was it also the fault of those who knew but never reported him? Or can the blame be extended to a general relaxed attitude to the fact that fireworks are part of the Maltese festa tradition and so, we can be complacent about them? I won’t go into the merits of who is to blame or who gets sentenced by law.


The sure fact is that these families have experienced firsthand the reality captured by Ecclesiastes. The vanity of life. Its impermanence. At the same time, I am also reminded of the people of Tibet, who are fighting for their right to be an autonomous people. Once again the vanity of life comes to mind. Why does the Chinese government want to crush Tibetan opposition?


Why is it important for China to kill and destroy another culture? Why lash out against the Dalai Lama? I cannot deny that I have great admiration for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. I am not even criticizing the Chinese people, or am implying that both sides have not made mistakes in the past. Because, at the end of it all, there is a danger of thinking that Chinese and Tibetans are different species of beings – especially if we confuse states with people, ideas with realities.


Here I’m not implying that since everything is open to subjectivity then all truth is relative – as some post-modernists may conclude. Indeed, quite the opposite. I am asking whether it’s time to search within ourselves and in others the things that are really important and truly valuable. Or, to return to the verse of Ecclesiastes, what remains after the world has “passeth away”.


I believe that on a personal level, the struggle for disabled people to be given true equality and to be judged as persons is important to me. I would also like to see a society that isn’t so much preoccupied with images, prejudice and preconceptions. I would like to see a society where because you’re black, a woman, gay or member of a minority, you don’t have to prove you deserve your rights to be.


Yes, I have done my fair share of mistakes in the past (and will do some new and old ones again) but I want to build on these errors. My negative experiences as a child taught me that the greatest enemy remains this ‘vanity’ in all its manifestations - such as in the belief in our worldly impermanence or in the ideas that we hold about reality and of people.


Our human existence follows the same path. We start at conception, are born and die. Truly, nobody can beat death. I trust that I’ll leave something better behind. I hope that after I die there’ll be an after-life (and a better one, please!). But there’s only faith when I say this. What I know is what I have learned from my past. That Nothing is static or certain. Except for the present moment!


Whoops! I did talk about my spiritual inclinations in this two part post after all!


note


I recently started participating in discussions at the BBC Ouch! Message board… I encourage you to join in the discussions - especially if you’re disabled. And, yes, you may find me contributing to the boards over there when I have some free time. I go by the name of ‘bluetoltec’ but don’t ask why because it’s a long, long story…


Err… there goes my vanity again!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

VANITY OF VANITIES!

PART 1


No, today’s post will not be dealing with religion as such – although the verse above derives from the book of Ecclesiastes found in the Old Testament, and the complete verse is:



“Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.


What hath a man more of all his labour, that he taketh under the sun?


One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth standeth for ever.”



(Ecclesiastes: 2 – 4)


I find that this verse contains within it a deep, yet simple, philosophy that is often obscured through religious ritual and unquestioned devotion and belief. I have never spoken of my religious views on this blog before because I hold that religion is a very personal issue. Indeed, although I have been brought up a Roman Catholic, I have moved away from the institution of the Church for a number of reasons that I won’t tackle today.


I do not deny that the Church itself may have value for groups of individuals but I have been witness to intolerance and fast judgements from those who allegedly espouse a religion of love and acceptance. Indeed, the fact that I had an impairment often meant that my life tended to be explained off either as a source of tragedy and passion with religious types in my childhood assuring me that they will pray for a ‘miracle’ to cure me from my impairment.


However, today I wish to talk about this verse. Why did I choose it? I find that it talks about the temporal nature of our existence. It talks about the fact that when we stop thinking, the words we use and the labels we impose on ourselves are meaningless. Science, language and our very names will one day disappear when no one will be there to utter them. Or to remember us.


After all, who remembers the man who lived next door to Jesus? Or the man who talked to the Buddha before he was enlightened? These might seem to be stupid questions but they are a central concern of major world religions. Indeed, this verse seems to bring together the idea of impermanence found in Buddhist tradition with the idea of our essential mortality and temporal natures as found in the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


As I write this I am listening to a work by Beethoven. Don’t ask me what is the name of the piece as I wouldn’t really know and, besides, I need to relax right now after a long day. Once the music stops, the silence will return. For a while at least. But, then this is like our lives. .


I was born the last of a large family and had to ask myself why things were as they are earlier on. Of course, I hear you say – I asked questions about my impairment and all that. Yes, my impairment prompted me to ask probing questions as I was faced with many different interpretations of my impairment.


Some were flattering as when they told me that I was an inspiration and an example to others and some made me feel morally responsible for my impairment. I don’t need to tell you that none were correct but that didn’t stop me from believing them during parts of my childhood and even in my adolescence. However, apart from this I was asking questions about life and death as my brother had died only a few months after I was born. Indeed, this ‘absence’ of my brother David forced me to search for answers as I grew up with the knowledge about someone who was closely related but whom I never got to know.


I'll leave you here for now but I know this is incomplete! So wattch out for part 2!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

DOWN MEMORY LANE

PART 2


In my last entry, I left you with some of the fears I had as a child on being labelled ‘disabled’. In particular, I was just going to talk about the implications the label, and its associated stereotypes, had on the way I viewed myself – and my sexuality. After all, the implications of being called an ‘angel’ were disturbing to me as I learned about the facts of life when I was very young. Indeed, when I was 12 or so, I suspected that such a label would not make me very 'interesting' to the opposite sex (although strangely enough I had many girl friends throughout my life). Yes, things have changed in society when it comes to these ideas but it’s surprising how many people still believe this myth of asexuality. Our images of disability may say a lot of things, but desirability and attractiveness are not on the list!


In fact, it still troubles me if I think about it deeply. How easy it is to talk about the rights of disabled people when it comes to employment, to education but then, when our rights to form families and have relationships is brought to the table, you get very odd looks. I got this impression the more I started getting involved in my work and on meeting new people. Perhaps it was one of the reasons why I found the suggestion that disabled people, whatever their impairment, be confined to an institution symptomatic of a belief that our privacy and space weren’t an issue at all.


I cannot deny that I am different from my non-disabled friends, and even from my disabled friends. I have, like anyone else, been brought up in a particular background and family. As a child, I had great admiration for world leaders like Martin Luther King Junior, and Mahatma Gandhi. I followed the adventures of the Star Trek enterprise and held a strong admiration for the fictional character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. These have been great influences on my life and on the choices I would make.


Of course, I dreamt of becoming a teacher or, earlier on, to be a freelance writer (much before Harry Potter was launched!) Those were my dreams as a child. But as I progressively acquired my visual impairment – after having started using a wheelchair a few years before – I knew that I could not hold on to my original plans to teach as I had to learn how to do things – such as ‘reading’ - all over again. Those experiences were hard but not negative. It was only when I started befriending new disabled people and making more non-disabled friends, that I felt compelled to make a difference in some way in the life of disabled people like myself. But, up to then, I had only non-disabled role models and was still ashamed of being disabled. After all, how could I take pride in being a disabled person? I didn’t know anything about what other disabled people had done, only learned to fear being associated with disabled people – to the extent that I made my first disabled friends only when I was 23 …


I was never taught, for example, how a group of physically impaired people living in a residential institution (Le Court) in the UK, in the 1970s, had rebelled against their establishment in an attempt to assert themselves as individuals. I was never introduced to the social model of disability as a child. I was never aware of the fact that I had every right to feel angry when those around me talked down to me in front of my friends because I looked different. I was never told that I should not accept an unequal status because my body could not conform to society’s standards.


In my early 20s, nobody had told me that there was nothing to be ashamed of if I used a wheelchair. No one introduced me to the writings of Paul Hunt, or gave me a real picture of Helen Keller. The messages I got were only that I wouldn’t make it, that I should be happy with anything I got even if it was unequal to my friends’. I was also told that I should never think of falling in love, or of becoming a parent. I was taught that I would be a child forever – Nothing more!


I’d better calm down now as I got really hot typing that paragraph. That’s why I feel that what I am doing is important. I have a lot of respect for other groups in society and believe in the struggles of women, gay people, and in the achievement of racial equality and respect for different faiths and beliefs. But, as a disabled person, I cannot avoid fearing that the fact that we have impairments often obscures the reality that we’re also men and women and have individual opinions and characters. Apart from the barriers this places on establishing friendships, it can prove fatal if you’re planning to ask someone out on a date!


At this point in my life, I believe that it is as important to address the cultural causes of disability as well as the structural ones – both are instrumental in creating disability. I am not ashamed to admit that there is a strong personal element in what I write here. It is frustrating to be regarded as a one dimensional person when trying to get involved in particular groups. It is insulting, to say the least, to be told that a particular place or service does not cater for disabled people. Finally, it is hurtful to be regarded as an overgrown child when you express the most basic of human emotions: love.


I guess it was truly a trip ‘down’ memory lane… It will soon be time to drink my cup of tea – even if I got a bit worked up on that last one. They say tea is a stimulant, so I might be in for some trouble. I should catch up with you in the coming weekk

...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

DOWN MEMORY LANE

PART 1

I didn’t realise how much things have changed since I left my local university in 2002. I still remember how I would dream of becoming a teacher or at least be involved in education when I grew up. Just three hours at my old university and I find myself asking how I ended up where I am today.


I guess it all started a long time ago, when I became very aware that I was viewed differently because of the way I walked. As I wrote in an earlier post, one such ‘waking’ moments was when I got to know that one of my best friends had received a ‘prize’ because he had helped ‘his mate with special needs’. Today, I can say that this experience has shaped my ideas as an activist but at the time it only forced me to push away any suggestions that I was disabled, and - if I could - I would run away from any approaching disabled person for fear of being 'associated' with disability.


It was only in 2003 that I had to face my ‘fear’ of being identified as ‘disabled’. Although I started using a wheelchair during my studies due to my poor health at the time which didn’t help my mobility impairment, I never wanted to be viewed as a ‘disabled person’. I remember conjuring images of pity, helplessness and dependence when I heard the words 'disabled people'. After all, that was what I had been taught disabled people were - pitiful beings!


On the other hand, I was also terrified of the religious interpretations which oscillated between explaining off impairment as product of original sin, and to ones that proclaimed my impairment as a ‘gift’ or a means to attain my salvation. Yes, it was but for a different reason. So, disability was the last thing on my mind when I turned 22. But there was another reason, perhaps more personal that made me want to keep away from being perceived as ‘disabled’.


Here it goes … the fear of being seen as asexual! The words that referred to disabled people in Malta at the time, and to a certain point today, were all referring to people with impairments as ‘angels’. And not only did I feel threatened by this word as I was becoming a rebellious teenager but I felt that it robbed my identity and turned me into a simple, and non-human, being. Kind of like a human amoeba…


To be continued …

Thursday, March 13, 2008

IS EXCLUSION THE SOLUTION TO INCLUSION?



This afternoon I had the opportunity to meet Professor Roger Slee, who is the research chair at the Institute of Education at the University of London. No, I am not blogging from the UK as he is currently on a visit to Malta and I was given the opportunity to participate in an informal meeting with him at the University of Malta. It was quite an interesting discussion we had as a small group coming from different backgrounds. Well, the main topic for discussion was what we understood by inclusion.

We all seemed to agree that inclusion encompassed more than disabled people, but that it comprised gender, race, and other categories. However, I argued that it was dangerous to combine the issues faced by each group in society as if they could be solved in a similar fashion. Indeed, the problem of disability can only be addressed if both structural and social factors are targeted as they both conspire to exclude us. For other social groups, it may be more a question of attitude and prejudice - but to an extent (for instance, women also need concrete changes in structure to be better included in the job market).

To be honest, I couldn't stay for the duration of the discussion which was getting rather interesting. And it brought back memories of the time I was at university some years ago ... sigh! However, Roger Slee seemed to be a very insightful person and the question he asked before I left is still in my mind... He asked whether instead of trying to define 'inclusion', we should perhaps focus more on the causes that create 'exclusion' in the first place ... It's really an aspect I haven't really considered...

To read an online article co-authored by Prof Slee on
Educational Support and Social Exclusion click here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

ELECTIONS ARE OVER …


These last few hours have been hard on me. I can’t remember any other election that I felt that the results would have an impact on my life. Yes, I think I’ve contributed to the debate which, I hope, helped in setting disability as an issue that needed to be given proper attention. It took a long time for the results of the first count of votes to come out. Hours passed as I awaited, with some anxiety, the results. No, I won’t be leaving you waiting to know the results (as I did). It was at about 9,30pm that we were told that the Nationalist Party (PN) appeared to have won the result by a majority of around 1,200 votes. Thus, it was a close call.


Frankly, I’m not a person who likes to get involved into local politics but it was a relief to know of this result. Apart from the issue of institutionalisation that the opposing MLP party was proposing regarding the future of disabled people, there were other issues which PN had proposed which appealed to me. I hope that our quality of life continues to improve as it has done before.


For those unfamiliar with local politics, you must keep in mind that local politics has tended to be preoccupied more with party-politics rather than politics based on policy. Although much is changing, I feel that disability cannot afford to remain seen in terms of health or ‘care’ policy. True, under PN administration, more emphasis has been on putting disability as a rights issue – but considering that MLP went as far as advocating the ‘institution’ as a solution means that the ideas that have oppressed disabled people in Malta still exist. So it seems that the Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi has another five years to serve as the country’s leader. At least, as far as disability is concerned, this man knows the sector rather well – being the president and chairperson of the National Commission Persons with a Disability (KNPD) for some time in the past.


BACK TO WORK!


I took today off since I expected that there will be lots of people celebrating the result – whatever party got elected. I really hope that by the end of this week things over here will return back to work as usual. I’ll start my old routine tomorrow after a weekend of expectations. It was a good weekend, except for the tension, and I got to play with my nephews on Saturday. Unfortunately, they will be leaving today, so it will be a while now till I see them again. It will give me time to recover from Saturday… no, just kidding.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

GREAT EXPECTATIONS …


About 2 hours have now passed since I cast my vote. So, the only thing left now is to wait until the time allocated for voting ends - at about 10pm. To be honest, I got involved in following the political scene more than I ever did before. There are two main reasons for this.

First, as I am now working in the disability sector I am more aware of the things that have happened in my country over the years - and second, as I've only reclaimed my identity as a disabled person relatively recently, I can understand better the social, cultural and political barriers disabled people like myself face in society.

Obviously, an issue that is of great concern this time round - and which I have taken a personal stand on is none other than that of institutionalization. Whatever happens, I will continue objecting to this (or other segregationist policy) because I believe it's wrong. For me and for other disabled people. No arguing there.

These 48 hours or so will determine the next 5 years of Malta's future , and may also have an impact on the quality of life Maltese people are currently enjoying - which although not perfect, is decent. It may also have a direct impact on the approach the government takes regarding disability issues. I hope the countdown will not make me anxious more than necessary but I can't help being concerned.

BLOG POLL

A few days ago I set up a poll on this blog to ask whether readers agreed that more institutions for disabled people be built. Sadly, only few responded but of the three people (yes 3!) who voted all agreed they should not be building more of these. I admit that the poll came in late and I didn't advertise it much. So that's the story there...

NEPHEWS VISIT

OK, amidst the election countdown and all the politically charged atmosphere that possesses Malta during these times, I can look forward to some quality time with my nephews Matt and Chris - who should be coming over in a few minutes. Sometimes I really wish I could be outside the 'grown-up' world with its problems and somewhat over-seriousness. But I cannot and indeed, I feel that as an adult, I have a duty to ensure that I leave behind a better society that values everybody - regardless of gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, age and of course, disability. Even if my focus in life is to fight for disabled people's rights, I cannot ignore the injustice perpetrated on others.


Well, better stop here for the time being as I have to conserve my energy as a five-year old and a two-year old can be more tiring than pushing my manual wheelchair up a hill!

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.