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

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)…”