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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Yuletide Post

It’s only a few hours until Christmas. Christmas … a word that conjures childhood memories more than any other occasion I celebrate on an annual basis. Not even on my birthday!

I guess I am not unique in that way. Well, Christmas appears to be the most magical time when you’re still a child. Full of hope and with a longing to learn new things about the world, you imagine what it was like when baby Jesus was born and trying to fit Santa and the reindeers in the picture. Tonight, I would be filled with anticipation of what Father Christmas was going to bring me this year…  I also secretly wished I could be granted a Christmas miracle and get to walk again (so sad)...

Alas, when we grow up, the charm of  Christmas seems to vanish as we discover a world that is quick to judge and many times superficial when making such judgments. Well, this doesn’t refer to anything in particular but it’s a general comment on how I feel things are today. I wish I could, for a few minutes, recapture the childhood innocence we all possessed once. On the other hand, we wouldn’t survive for long in the adult world if we really retained our childhood way of thinking.

However, I believe we have the choice to stop worrying about the material possessions that have become synonymous with this season. Indeed, I must say that we have come to associate Christmas too much with presents when it’s about gifts.

A play with words, I hear you say. Not really... “Presents” are often simply inanimate artifacts that, yes, can be useful and a source of pleasure. On the other hand, a gift can mean many things - of being a friend, of letting go of the past and of giving oneself to a righteous cause. Yes, related to the act of giving is the idea of ‘charity’… a term that has gained notoriety in my dictionary.

Well, charity reminds me of the many times I have felt out of place as people judged I was unlucky, or as they say, ‘less fortunate’. Oftentimes, these negative messages emerge again like a haunting ghost around Christmas – although I admit things have improved as (disabled people locally appear no longer to be paraded as pathetic, dependent and pitiful things. Yet, the modern Christmas, despite the messages of peace and love it expresses, also bombards us with images and messages promoting instant happiness through the purchase of things, presents and such. Ok, it’s still nice to receive a present occasionally but aren't forgetting something?.

This act of giving material goods to solve problems is what charity sseems to mean nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s bad to give some money to charity but, I believe,  this is not what charity is all about. Charity is about giving a person who society has rejected and stigmatised, the dignity of being treated as your equal. Admittedly, it’s not easy and I have often been the one acting as the better person. But when I was on the receiving end... thought of as the 'poor', 'less fortunate', 'pitiful' and 'crippled' boy … it didn't feel that good. But is our way of thinking as adults, natural? Can we still hope in the new generations?

Well, all I can say that judging by my experiences with my nephews, children don’t naturally assume  they're better than their uncle simply because they can walk and run amok around the house. It's natural that they ask questions about why uncle uses a wheelchair, etc but that's pretty much like using a car for them. Still, I fear they will  probably assume that a 'cruel' nature was the source of all my problems when they grow older (though I still hope not!).

As adults, we have the opportunity to go one step further than looking at disabled people as equals. We have the faculty to consider the way society creates problems through its lack of access and the various wrong ideas about who disabled people are. When I started suspecting that society had a part to play  in the negative way I sometimes thought of myself, I was about 10 years old – long after I stopped believing in Father Christmas. To cut a long post short, I think that we should go beyond basing our happiness on material objects.



For even if we cannot return to our childhood state, we can try to be less narrow in our judgments and be open to the possibilities life offers. That’s the only way we can renew ourselves for the New Year – forget any resolutions that we plan to make (which for me last less than 5 days).

Enjoy the holidays and I'll be back in 2010!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Babbling aboutBlogging

We often take new media (a term that covers all social networking sites and computer-mediated user generated content) for granted. For some of us, including moi, when we were young, the floppy disk was an amazing tool to exchange games or other software and used to envy the person who had a 80486 model computer. I think that those had the memory of mobile phones now. In short, we've become hooked on technology and we have progressed in our communication repertoire from snail mail to twitter, facebook and blogger. I sometimes try to imagine what all this new technology and experience of new media is like for a 9 year old today.

I guess it would be only part of his or her daily life. At least if s/he lives in a country with proper infrastructure. Added to that, his/her family must afford such technology. In this sense, we can speak of a global digital divide that separates nations with access to the net and those who lack widespread access or who have state-imposed restrictions (like Iran and China). In spite of all that, can we say that the new media is making us better individuals and building a more equal and just society?

Yes, people form communities and virtual friendships through social networking. At the same time, groups propagating prejudice or encouraging separatism are also gaining strength through the use of the internet - thus closing themselves within their virtual social circles and to alternative views. I'm not implying that social networking is a bad tool or, as some fundamentalists put it, "the instrument of evil"... But, like other technology, it is being used to promote dialogue and justice as well as immobilising hate groups and radical extremism. On a more personal level, we often take our status updates on facebook or twitter lightly or may write a careless blog post. Or else, divulge information to all the virtual world that you might regret later...

It may sound paranoid, and it is to a point, but when you communicate in cyberspace, you are really talking to 'everyone' (assuming you are posting on publicly accessible sites). So, you who are reading my blog right now might be ... oh ... a serial killer ... or even president Obama ... Steven Spielberg ... Bill Gates ... or even ... the Pope or the Dalai Lama? Better calm down and take a deep breath, Gordon ... It's probably the occasional visitor who has found your blog by accident and has left before reaching this point.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just some thoughts ...

These days I am spending my free time doing reading for my thesis. As a consequence, I am getting worrying symptoms.

For instance, while I'm eating, I see an idea emerging from my mash potato... I'm listening to the radio and a string of words coalesce to form a meaningful sentence... I'm watching TV and through my fogged vision, I perceive a vision... When I sleep I dream I'm discussing what I read during the day... it gets worse...

The last time I felt this way was when I was in love. Very disconcerting. Well, it's ironic that the more I spend reading about blogs and blogging, the less I spend doing the thing myself!

Seriously, I hope that countries agree on concrete action to address climate change as they go on with their discussions at the Copenhagen conference. Even if, to be honest, I am unsure whether we are in time to save ourselves from climate change. Or whether, like some sceptical scientists claim, our actions have no significant impact on the climate. I wonder...

It's also International Human Rights Day today. Yet, I'm also not very convinced that our world has incredibly improved its human rights record. In some aspects, I think we're even regressing. Yes, we have the UN Convention Rights of Disabled People now and many other instruments to protect the human rights of many. But there are some rights that are being contested or even denied. Abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide are, in my view, serious threats to human rights. And it's also concerning that a Swiss vote will now secure that no more minarets are built... and there's a movement, it seems, to remove religious symbols from public places. Not sure if we're on the right track here...

Alas, the majority world (referred to by media as the 'developing world') is experiencing the greatest breaches of human rights ranging from poverty to torture and execution. I think we who live in the minority world have some responsibility in this state of affairs - after spending decades exploiting these countries' natural resources and polluting their habitats - costing the lives of livelihoods of many inhabitants. And we cannot solve these problems by simply giving money to charity because that's only a symptom... The cause, I believe, is bad distribution of wealth and by that I mean that the money doesn't go where the real poverty is.

Finally, I find it unjust that the majority world will be facing the brunt of climate change. In this, I feel that the minority world must not dismiss its responsibility to what, after all, made it what it is but really help to prevent the worst from happening.

For, if I think about it, the distinctions we make between the majority/developing world and the minority/developed world are only in our mind. If a drought starves the whole of North Africa, for instance, it will affect us as well - wherever we are... But, I guess, that would be stating the obvious (!))

Friday, December 04, 2009

Yesterday was International Disabled People’s Day ...

Yes, it’s true – the 3rd December is remembered as International Disabled People’s Day. As a disabled person working in the disability field, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t write a line or two about this. Even if one day later. But, to my defence, I had to deliver a presentation to a conference to mark International Disabled People Day organised by the National Commission Persons with a Disability (KNPD) - which is also my employer.

This year’s theme adopted by KNPD is employment, or more precisely, our right to work expressed by our slogan The Right to Work - Our Right Too! (my translation)

The sad reality is that this right to work is still denied to many disabled people around the world. In Malta, the rate of employment amongst disabled people stood only at 14.6% within the disabled population (Census 2005). Indeed, despite any anti-discrimination legislation that exist locally (such as the Equal Opportunities Act / Cap 210) or any European directive (such as the EU Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation), the facts reflect a worrying trend. But,, hopefully, now that we have the UN Convention Rights of Disabled People,, which includes Article 27 on work and employment, I hope to see more progress in this area as well as more countries ratify it.

Yet, the current reality remains that disabled people who want to access employment must face obstacles not only in terms of finding an accessible place of work, or in suitable assistive apparatus, but must deal with the complexity of a disabling society. Obstacles include lack of accessible transport, lack of personal support and with the past failures of an educational system which provided them with a poor level of education. But the barriers do not end there! A good number of employers are still reluctant to employ us because they think, for instance, that we will be less productive, take more sick leave or create problems to other employees.

Well, writing those negative assumptions down reminds me that Christmas is soon coming. I do like Christmas, mind you, but I really dislike those charity marathons that portray us as dependent, pathetic or sick. I guess that clears the mystery of where employers get some of their funny ideas about disabled people. After all, we are often depicted as dependent, pathetic and in need of charity. Who would think that we are fit to work under that light? I hope this year will be better but I’m not holding my breath.

I think that’s enough for today. I hope to be able to write some more in the coming days – especially on my impressions of this year’s charity events. But, for now, enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Post-Birthday Analysis

Last Sunday, I celebrated my 28th birthday. To be honest, birthdays have lost the excitement they might have had when I was younger. I guess it's a combination of factors and circumstances, such as the many tasks I have on my plate right now. Not to mention some health concerns I've been having. The latter, with luck, should improve.

The work I was involved in and which I had to re-examine over the last week concerned the research I and two of my colleagues carried out concerning the quality of life of disabled people in Malta. In this study, we analysed the results of the Census of 2005 and how Maltese disabled people fared in contrast to non-disabled people and between each other.

During my revision of the conclusions, I felt a degree of inadequacy and even guilt. The fact that
Just 14.6% of the disabled population were in employment,
That 42.3% had reached a primary educational level,
That 79.3% had no qualifications or
That only 46.9% lived in good standard housing,

Are just a few reasons why I cannot help feeling a degree of guilt for what I have achieved? At the same time, I believe it would be wrong to ignore this reality and do as I did in my youth. And go pretending I'm not disabled and detach myself from the issues that face us all. I am quite hurt, at times, to find disabled allies telling me that given my background, I do not represent them. What do I answer to that? I have wondered.

I know that despite any achievements I could pretend to have, disabled attitudes still continue to condition how society may value and judge me. But, of course, I could hide away at home and live without exposing myself to other people. The fact remains that I want to go out and do what I have the right to do. That is why I venture out at times to work and to socialise.

In this, I recognise the same struggle, the same barriers that other Maltese disabled people face. The limited opportunities to get a good education, a decent job or proper housing. In public, we also face the barrier posed by inaccessible buildings, transport or even information. In spite of this, the cruellest cut is to be told that we are unfortunate, we are the problem ... More seriously, is the tendency for some disabled people to move away from recognising a common experience of a disabling society, departed from medical impairment and tragedy.

For I believe that we, disabled people, should realise that impairment doesn't limit us as much as society would have us believe. Let me clear - I am not adopting the slogan of 'look at my ability not my disability' here because this seriously poses us a disservice Indeed, as a disability activist I firmly hold that the fact we can't access buildings is more due to the way buildings are designed. That the problems we face making sense of information has more to do with the way this information is presented and so on and so forth.

As many disabled activists have stated, it is the way society is organised that creates disability by not taking people with impairments into account. Ability talk is obsessed with individual proof and not collective or policy solutions.

Hence it becomes more important for us to own the results of the Census Report, which gives an indication of the quality of our life, and use it to push forward policy change and greater opportunities. For we have the golden opportunity to show how institutions are still failing some of us while acknowledging the progress that has been achieved (especially the young generations).

These were a series of thoughts that lay on my chest. I may have been wrong in some of my judgements but then, opinions and facts may change.

For those interested to read the Census Report which gives more indications and detailed statistics, and analysis please VISIT http://www.knpd.org/
> CLICK ON Publications
> SAVE Census 2005 (ZIP)

The Census Report also contains the following stats:

1. difference between disabled and non-disabled people.
2. difference between disabled men and disabled women.
3. disabled people across age groups.
4. disabled people by impairment groups.
5. disabled people by district. they inhabit.

These groups will be analysed through:

A DEMOGRAPHICS (AGE, GENDER, MARITAL STATUS, ETC.)
B EDUCATION (LEVEL, QUALIFICATIONS, LITERACY, ETC.).
C EMPLOYMENT (RATE, TYPE, AREA, ETC.)
D. DWELLINGS (TYPE, STATE, APPLIANCES, ETC.)
E. INTERNET ACCESS
F. PARTICIPATION IN SPORTS

Monday, September 28, 2009

A wheelchair called "Kevin"

I wish to share with you a little episode that happened this morning. As I was driving with my wheelchair to my workplace, a young lady who works in the same building greeted me as follows:

"Good morning ... Kevin!"

To which I quickly replied:

"...Gordon!?!"

Now this isn't the first time that I've been called 'Kevin'. This name of Irish origin appears to be common among wheelchair users. In fact, I can say that I know at least two wheelchair users who bear this name. Now, I don't have anything against the name of Kevin, but my name is Gordon', a Celtic name. In other words, my name comes from more ancient origins. But enough of that.! Well, I am always perplexed when this thing happens but I assure you I know the cause. A disabled colleague of mine reminded me of the reason. Here it goes...

People aren't greeting me, they're greeting my wheelchair!


Alright, they are actually noticing that a wheelchair has just passed them and dig into their memory banks to return the only wheelchair user's name they know. So, hey presto, I become Kevin! I'm not sure if there's a female equivalent but I bet there is one. And this can also happen in the case of people with other impairments.


As you can tell, I don't take this thing very seriously. However, it illustrates a point - that people don't always see us as individuals but rather as a bunch of clones. Even havin the same name... I wonder if I could get this watermelon to drive itself through to work, they would simply ignore it and greet it as 'Kevin'. Dah, probably they would just ignore it...

Note: No offence meant to my friends named Kevin. So, no hard feelings. That includes you, Mr Costner...

PS: I took that photo during the summer months when my family bought a large watermelon. I made the connections and voila! It got a cool look. Sadly, it was eaten in a few days

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FaceBook: Audio Captions

In my last post I made a passing reference to Facebook's audio captions which are used to verify whether you're a real person or not. This is really an aural version of the word verification method. As everyone who has used any identity verification service knows, it may be tricky to make sense of the characters provided for word verification purposes.

The same applies for audio captions. Sometimes you get it right and some other times you get it terribly wrong. Inspired by audio captions - in particular those found in FaceBook, I decided to create my own audio caption. As I state in the youtube clip I linked to, I have tried to make the audio caption "as accessible and the voice as intelligible as possible". You'll hear I'm right ...



PS: I'm still experimenting with creating powerpoint-based youtube videos. I hope to be able to produce more improved work in the future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ping Pong PhD [2]

Continues from Part 1

> Last time, I was talking about my experiences with social networking and then the choice I had to make about whether to start my PhD or not. After deciding to go ahead, I had not as yet decided on a suitable topic.

I was unsure how to proceed with this choice I thought I made. What topic? And on what basis should I choose it? And then the flash bulb of ideas lit up! Don’t ask me when the moment of epiphany came but it came. And I am glad it did. Why not do a research on blogging and disabled people.

Naturally, I won’t go into detail into the project itself, but suffice it to say that what started off as a hobby is now also the subject of my research. Well, I expect that the coming4 years will not be easy. Juggling work and study, even if part-time, isn’t an easy task – especially with a PhD! And, of course, there are also the occasional colds and fevers that sometimes attack my body once in a while will probably slow me down. Yet, with the support of my friends, family and colleagues at work; I hope to make it for my future graduation. But let’s take it as it comes.

As a final note, I believe that in spite of any social network platform that might exist or be created, human contact and face-to-face interaction) is the highest form of reaching out and relating to other people. Of course, your support as blog readers and social network buddies enhances our lives by expanding our human experiences.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ping Pong PhD [1]

This is the first post I’m writing in my home at Paola. Home, sweet home, yes… Although I was looking forward to the move back here from my summer residence, I am always reluctant to pack all my stuff and then unpack everything. As if I don’t get tired enough doing the packing in the first place. And it surprises me how I get all my stuff in the same bag and then can’t figure out how it fitted in there the first time! Anyway, I’m here again and after pestering my ISP to get my internet service back, I am also online yet again. Luckily, I didn’t spend such a long time offline this time. OK, I admit I depend largely on the internet for almost everything. Except to satisfy my hunger, thirst and sleep - I think that includes the most important things for my survival. Hey, what about friendships and social relations?

Well, I’ve recently started getting more into social networking apart from posting on blogger. In fact, I’m exploring the potential of facebook and twitter. I have found twitter ideal for submitting links to my recent posts and to other posts that interest me and I also use face book for almost the same purpose. On the other hand, as a visually impaired person, I prefer to use twitter than face book as the face book interface tends to be very graphic and I find myself struggling with my screen magnifier at times. True, they have included audio captions to verify that I am really human and not a spam engine. But it’s not always easy to make out what the recorded voices are saying! Besides, I think I should be expanding my social networks now. In fact, only recently I have joined a micro blogging platform called identi.

However, a persistent problem that I thought about is whether it was worth it having more social networks and then have to go through the tedious process of logging in, writing your bit, listening to the audio caption if I’m in face book and then posting. Even writing that was tedious! Now, I discovered an intelligent way to keep all of you up to date without the hassle. The solution is a site called ping.fm where I can update all my current social networks and any new ones I might be tempted to add. I admit that since I discovered blogging in 2006 and became savvier in the world of social networking, I was hooked. Not that I have become chained to my net book and never leave home. In fact, I think social networking should help in sustaining friendships and creating new ones. Unfortunately, the danger of social isolation brought about by a kind of cyber-philia is a reality as well. But back to my post…

When I started my MA in Disability Studies (in 2006), I used blogging more as a means for expressing myself to pass the little free time I had between work and study. I used my blog for many purposes, but my prime motivation was (and is) to highlight ways in which I feel society excluded me. As a wheelchair user who was becoming used to a visual impairment, I wanted to reach out to the online community once again - after a brief absence. I always used to love writing and, thus, blogging was the perfect way to express my thoughts - not just about disability issues and disability activism but also about how I viewed things as an individual. After all, the reason I engaged in disability activism is to help change society in a way that I can enjoy my rights and not be judged by my impairments.

As I finished my MA, I had to decide whether I should continue with my studies…and do... the PhD. I took a year off study, found part-time work and this summer I had to decide whether it’s work or study. Greedy as I am, I opted to do both! In fact, I will be continuing with my work and start my research. And hopefully I will succeed in completing my PhD on a part-time basis by 2013.

Before the summer began, I was almost sure of going ahead with my PhD but the topic eluded me. As my mind tried to find the right research area that I would enjoy, ideas ping ponged in my consciousness. Should I do employment? Or a study on local media? Or even on inclusive education? Nothing seemed to inspire me enough to spend 4 years. Not that these areas are not important – on the contrary! Yet, this was my first PhD and I wanted to make sure I’m 100 percent ok with the topic.

But still I was out of good ideas! So, to take a line from Frasier’s theme song - What is a boy to do?


To be continued ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's in a House?

As some of you know, every summer, I move to our summer house together with my family. It’s been a tradition for some years, although there were a few summers we didn’t make the trip. This summer house, let’s call it ‘Norse’, is not the place I would like to spend the summer break. True, it’s located not far from the sea in the picturesque village of Marsaxlokk but this brochure-like description still doesn’t convince me.

For starters, when we began coming here again around 2006 I was almost a full-time wheelchair user. That meant that there were plenty of access issues to sort out. We had to build a ramp to the main door. It wasn’t that difficult since there wasn’t a very high step to begin with. Next, we had to find a way for me to use the bath and we got a bath chair. So, except for the stairs, which I still can manage with my walking stick, we had everything sorted out. Ah, just to be clear when I write ‘we’, it usually means that my dad did it - there! So don’t imagine me drenched in cement fixing the ramp or anything to that effect…

Yet, if you thought access issues were my only concern… well, you’re wrong. Our summer house is located where traffic, dogs, cats and people are going and coming. It used to be a silent street when I was younger but I guess it’s the price of progress… Anyhow, the activity appears to get worse during the night. Just last Thursday I couldn’t get to sleep due to a cat fight. It was a real cat against cat struggle, so there aren’t any juicy details to report I’m afraid. And if you ever heard the shrieks of cats, it becomes a little bit more terrifying at night. Then, at about 4is when I almost got to sleep… there come the cars of people parking or leaving for work. Thank God the tea helped me get back to my senses in time for work.

This summer house has so many facets and brings back a lot of memories. I admit, they’re not all bad. But, I always remember, as a child that it was one of the first places I realised people were talking about me in a strange way. The first and only time I can say I was bullied because of my impairment. It happened here as well. At least I had some good neighbourhood friends who could defend me then. The place I would have one of my first little crushes (nuff of that here).

This is also the house my late brother David died, months after I was born. So, I do feel a sense of loss and perhaps longing to know the brother I never got to know. Life, of course, goes on and I had resolved to do my best to honour (as best I can) his memory. It’s surprising how a house can evoke so much…

I don’t want to end this post on a sad note. The truth is that with all the good and bad things there is about Norse, it was still a place that taught me things about me that I wouldn’t have come to know otherwise. For instance, the experience of wading in the salty sea looking with awe at the horizon and the blue sky. Beautiful! Wondering, at night, at the starry sky about the reasons we are here and on where we are going. The mystery…

It also taught me about the hard reality of life - How some people could not accept the fact I was different and judged me for that. How, for a few, I wasn’t supposed to be out with other children but rather kept in a safe place. But I found good friends too, so I cannot really complain…

Alas, such a long post and I guess it’s time to wrap it up. I have now almost finished packing as we’re leaving tomorrow. I have waited for this time to come, I admit. But now that it’s come there is a little bit of nostalgia creeping up. We are a creature of habit and I was getting used to living here. But, alas, given that it gets very cold in winter, I better make sure I’ve packed everything and forget the nostalgia. I can always come here next summer …

Bye for now!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

New York memories before September 11

There are cities in the world that have a special place in my memory. One of them is New York City. The one time I had the chance to visit the Big Apple, as it is also called, was when I was about 13 back in 1994. I went together with my family to visit relatives who lived in Long Island. I couldnt believe I was going to the city I had seen only in movies, particularly Home Alone II, which was one of my favourites then. Indeed, I was thrilled to find myself in the city that never sleeps” (as Frank Sinatra once put it )>

I remember being taken around the different areas of the city and I was excited by the fact that there were so many people from different cultures inhabiting the same city. I was blown off by the various ethnic communities one could find so close to each other. We passed through Little Italy and ChinatownI recall but Im sure that there were many more - as suggested by the kaleidoscope of streets decorated with traditional ornaments and the unreal smell of delicious foods!

But a fond memory I have of New York was when I had the chance to taste kosher food in a Jewish restaurant. Since two of my cousins are Jewish, I had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant that wasnt invaded by tourists. The owners were so welcoming that it felt like coming home to a family dinner. Okay, at the end, one of the owners gave me some sweets for being such a good boy. I guess some things do really change ;)

Anyway, New York wasnt only about eating. We visited many sights and museums, including the Vanderbilt Museum, the Rockefeller Centre. We also had the opportunity to attend a Broadway show starring Mickey Rooney. One evening, we took a ferry ride across Manhattan and I took a good look at the famous Statue of Liberty - on Ellis Island. The lady with the scales of justice was a gift given by the French to America as a symbol of friendship. Unfortunately, I dont get the chance to get up there - perhaps thankfully as there were many, many steps and long queues!! But seriously, what I saw back then, the Manhattan with the towering skyscrapers dwarfed by the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building, I would never see again.

Of course, at that age, I had already travelled to many cities in Europe but New York was a different kind of town than any I had experienced before. I walked the streets of New York in disbelief as I witnessed the towering skyscrapers that surrounded me. I almost got dizzy at times. I enjoyed scaring and feeding the pigeons which seemed to have taken over most of New York‘s streets. I enjoyed to be able to move around without having people staring at my gait - a thing which used to happen a lot in Malta.

True, some people say that in cities like New York, you may as well be dying on the street and people will still ignore you. But, at that age, I interpreted peoples detachment and caution as an opportunity to be more myself . At the time, I could move around more as my mobility impairment permitted me to do longer distances. I wonder how it would be like now with my wheelchair…Ah! I digress

Well, another memory that I have of New York was when I got the chance to go on top of the Twin Towers. An event that I would remember every time September 11 is approaching. Mine, however, is not an experience tarnished by terrorism and tragedy. Indeed, it was a wonderful experience - going to the top of the World Trade Centre!

Getting on top of the Twin Towers wasn’t easy. We had to wait in the long queue of tourists who wished to peer from the highest floor of the building. Ironically, we may have took longer waiting in the queue than actually travelling up the 110 or so storeys of the late tower. Indeed, the lifts had been designed to be super-fast as they were continuously in operation taking workers and tourists up and down. I finally made it to the top floor…

As I stood up there, I could see the whole of Manhattan below me. It was a breath taking experience - not just because the air was thinner up there but because I could see how small everything really was - at least from that perspective! Even if it wasnt like witnessing the Earth from space, it surely got close. People, cars and other building appeared as structures and machines created by Lilliputians. Yet, the same people who appeared as not bigger than ticks, were the same ones who built the structure I was on. How incredible it was that as humans we are only capable of doing so much and yet as a community we’re capable of building so high.

And so, I did manage to climb up the Twin Towers. But now, after thousands lost their lives in a horrific event of 9/11, the only thing that remains is a piece of land known as ground zero. I am thankful that none of my American relatives were there at the time but I remain saddened by the whole event. When I watched the attacks on the Twin Towers on CNN on that fateful day, I couldn’t believe that such a structure could collapse so fast. But it did.

9/11 is a moment in our recent history when a dark chapter of fear and doubt has been opened. It’s an event that has brought us face-to-face with our vulnerability as humans and with the complex realities of globalisation.

However, when I remember 9/11, I try not to recall the bloody images of the terrorist attacks - even if they must be acknowledged. Instead, I try to recall a city of peoples with their own traditions living together, working together and building communities together.

While New York is far from perfect, the solidarity and acts of courage exhibited by the residents of New York during the hard times following the attacks was proof that there is still hope in humanity. It is evidence that the demons of prejudice, hate and revenge manifested through terrorism have no place in the world. Sadly, 9/11 was followed by military action in Afghanistan and Iraq while global terrorism is not on the decrease.

I sometimes wonder whether we will ever be able to achieve a state of peace and rid ourselves from the cycle of violence that continues to threaten our world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

THE ‘RETARDED’ POLICEMAN – GOOD OR BAD GUY?

A few days ago, I was surfing the net for some comic relief and I stumbled into short films produced by Mediocre Films forming a series called The Retarded Policeman. This series of short films appear to have made a big hit amongst youtube users. Forgetting for a minute the negative term ‘retarded’ used in the title, I was left rather unsure of what to make of the series.

The series is really simple in that there is this police officer with an intellectual impairment who pulls over drivers and exposes them to a range of unexpected behaviour. You must be warned that the officer's behaviour ranges from the utterly banal to the gross. I admit this is not my kind of humour... Anyway, the 'retarded' policeman's actions tend to enforce many stereotypes people have about people with an intellectual impairment. I have identified some of them which might help you get the picture, including the idea that people with intellectual impairments are no more mature than young children, that they cannot control their sexual urges and that they can be unpredictable or violent.

In another situation, I would have clearly stated that such a series promoted negative ideas about disabled people - in this case people having an intellectual impairment. However, here matters are complicated because the star of the series, Josh Perry, is himself a person with Down syndrome. Some may think that he is being 'exploited' and all that by Mediocre Films but I don't think it's the case. Indeed, the films he appears in seem to challenge the notions we might have about people with an intellectual impairment in some ways. After all, there have been comedies in which black people, for example, make fun of themselves. What's the difference here?

On the other hand, should we run the risk of having humour that might help in further excluding part of the disabled community that has suffered a lot from the breach of their human rights (such as forced sterilisation and abortion) - not to mention negative attitudes leading to institutionalisation and denial of their human status? Yet, a lingering thought remains bothering me - would it preferable if people never saw Josh Perry in his youtube role, yes even as a 'retarded' policeman?

Would it not mean that, once again, we are undermining the ability of people with an intellectual impairment to decide for themselves and to follow their wishes? Finally, isn't the fact that non-disabled people can relate to, in a particular way, with an intellectually disabled people pave the way for more chances for different groups to understand each other? Not to mention the possibility of creating new working opportunities for people with an intellectual impairment in acting roles apart from drama or tragedy?

Of course the question is open and I'm still not 100 percent sure if there's a right answer. However, what I know is that it's a fact that thousands, if not more, people have enjoyed watching Josh Perry in the series that he has become an internet star. That really sets me thinking..

If you want to have your say, send me an email with "Your View" in the subject line.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The GD-ZONE Saga - 3 years and 3 blogs!

YES! It's true - it's been three years since I started writing here. I remember it was a hot summer day in 2006. I was excited and somehow anxious in taking this step. However, I was also determined to join the online blogging community - especially the virtual disability community that exists. I shared some personal stuff, my hopes and disappointments. In short, this blog was an important part of my life and a means by which I can relate my experiences as a Maltese disabled person. Okay, put in a pinch of vanity in my blogging pursuit!

But I didn't stop there (am I greedy?) In fact, over the course of the last 2 years, I have also created two new blogs, Cosmos Online and more recently, Zyhil.


As a blogger, I was often worried when I had writer’s block or noticed that the ratings were pretty low. Perhaps I need to work on this, I admit. One way I hope to make this blog more relevant to different readers is to introduce some goodies for future consumption. Here is a short snippet of what I have planned:

BLOG ROUNDUP
In "Blog Roundup", I will take a look at the latest entries found in my blog list found on the left side of this blog. I hope that the number of blogs I will be reviewing increases.

D-INTERVIEW
In "D-Interview", I will be asking a number of questions to disabled people or other non-disabled people involved in the sector.

YOUR VIEW
In "Your View", I will be responding to your emails. This depends on the amount of contributions received, so start writing to Gordon.Cardona@speedymail.org with Your View in the subject line.

Oh, I almost forgot ... I recently created a FaceBook group GD-ZONE. Here you will be able to keep up to date with all the latest post entries on each blog - the best thing is that everyone is invited to discuss any post content ... but please don't forget that I may be quicker to respond if you left a coment or sent an email.

I hope you’ll enjoy these new additions. Also feel free to drop me a line with your feedback and comments on my email address below.

Now off to celebrate ... hey, it appears I ate all the food yesterday ... argh!!!

Best,

Gordon C. Cardona
E: Gordon.Cardona@speedymail.org

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking Red Bull by its Horns



France & Denmark have banned it from the country...

RED BULL - slow death ...

Do NOT drink this drink anymore!!

Pay attention; read it all

As a public health safety, please pass on this email to all the contacts in your address book especially those with teenage children and make copies to show to all the people you know.

This drink is SOLD in all the supermarkets IN OUR country and our children ARE CONSUMING IT ON A TRIAL BASIS, IT can be mortal. RED BULL was created to stimulate the brains in people who are subjected to great physical force and in stress coma and never to be consumed like an innocent drink or soda pop.

RED BULL IS the energizer DRINK that is commercialized world-wide with its slogan:'It increases endurance; awakens the concentration capacity and the speed of reaction, offers more energy and improves the mood. All this can be found in a can of

RED BULL , the power drink of the millennium.!

'RED BULL has managed to arrive at almost 100 countries worldwide. The RED BULL logo is targeted at young people and sportsmen, two attractive segments that have been captivated by the stimulus that the drink provides.

It was created by Dietrich Mateschitz, an industrialist of Austrian origin who discovered the drink by chance. It happened during a business trip to Hong Kong , when he was working at a factory that manufactured toothbrushes.

The liquid, based on a formula that contained caffeine and taurine, caused a rage in that country. Imagine the grand success of this drink in Europe where the product still did not exist, besides it was a superb opportunity to become an entrepreneur.

BUT THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS DRINK IS ANOTHER THING:

FRANCE and DENMARK have just prohibited it as a cocktail of death, due to its vitamin components mixed with GLUCURONOLACTONE', a highly dangerous chemical, which was developed by the United States Department of Defense during the sixties to stimulate the moral of the troops based in VIETNAM, which acted like a hallucinogenic drug that calmed the stress of the war.

But their effects in the organism were so devastating, that it was discontinued, because of the high index of cases of migraines, cerebral tumors and diseases of the liver that was evident in the soldiers who consumed it.

And in spite of it, in the can of RED BULL you can still find as one of its components: GLUCURONOLACTONE, categorized medically as a stimulant.

But what it does not say on the can of ,RED BULL are the consequences of its consumption, and that has forced us to place a series of WARNINGS:

1. It is dangerous to take it if you do not engage in physical exercise afterwards, since its energizing function accelerates the heart rate and can cause a sudden attack.

2. You run the risk of undergoing a cerebral hemorrhage, because RED BULL contains components that dilute the blood so that the heart utilizes less energy to pump the blood, and thus be able to deliver physical force with less effort being exerted.

3. It is prohibited to mix RED BULL with alcohol, because the mixture turns the drink into a " Deadly Bomb " that attacks the liver directly, causing the affected area never to regenerate anymore.

4. One of the main components of RED BULL is the B12 vitamin, used in medicine to recover patients who are in a coma; from here the hypertension and the state of excitement which is experienced after taking it, as if you were in a drunken state.
5. The regular consumption of RED BULL triggers off symptoms in the form of a series of irreversible nervous and neuronal diseases.

CONCLUSION:

It is a drink that should be prohibited in the entire orld as when it is mixed with alcohol it creates a TIME BOMB for the human body, mainly between innocent adolescents and adults with little experience.

Received from:
Pauline Mercieca
Co-Ordinator
Agenzija Appogg,
36, St. Luke's Road,
Gwardamangia.
PTA 1318
Telephone No. 21440955/7

MORE INFO Red Bull Wikipedia Article

Red Bul and its Side Effectsl

Dangers of College Red Bull Cocktails

Risks posed by Energy Drinks

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Killing me softly

I’ve been rather unwell lately, which means that I broke my resolution to keep this blog flowing. However, I will make it up to you, dear readers, by presenting you this post. This time round, I will be dealing with the relationship between language and disability.

The topic of language and disability has fascinated me both as a dabbling writer, and as a disabled person. The fact is that we sometimes unknowingly resort to words and phrases that can be considered to be disablist. To illustrate this, I tried to get a couple of disabling terms and use them to write a disablist paragraph. Here it is:

Dear Editor,
I wish to state my dissatisfaction with the way the development board blindly went ahead with its plans. This, in spite of our protests which appear to have fallen on deaf ears. As pointed out in our complaints, this development will serve to further paralyze traffic. I believe that the authorities should see that the project is stopped. I often wonder whether we are being led by feeble minded decision makers.

As you can read from the letter, I can be as disablist as the non-disabled person next door. But really, what you should notice is that language often contains words and phrases that can be disabling or offer us a less than positive image of people who have impairments. Of course, we cannot go to the extreme of banning all words in the English language that cause us the slightest offense. Indeed, the metaphoric uses of impairments to convey particular situations or states of mind tend to enrich the ways in which we express our thoughts. The problem is that most of the times impairment appears in a sentence, a negative quality is usually being invoked.

All the same, the use of disablist language will take long to change. However, this does not mean that change is impossible to achieve. A good example is the decline in the use of racist terms such as ‘nigger’ between the 1960s and 1970s. On the other hand, this exposes another issue related to books written in the past where such terms were acceptable and in the context of historical non-fiction/fiction.

What these two categories have in common is the issue of authenticity. Can you, for example, look through Mark Twain and sift out any racist terms in the new version? Can you write a historical account or work of fiction by avoiding the use of the words people of the time were comfortable with? That is a hard one to solve but I believe that in these cases, an authentic representation of history and how contemporary authors actually wrote is essential – provided that the reader can place the work in its own context or time. Imagine writing an account of the holocaust and excluding the words adopted by the Nazi propaganda machine. It would dilute the horrific events by a significant degree since the Nazi party’s war against its opposition was to dehumanise opponents and uphold the 3rd Reich through words and euphemism.

Indeed, at the time when disabled people were being gassed – followed by Jews, political opponents, homosexuals, etc – language was being used as a weapon of terror and power. Disabled people were ‘lives not living’, Jews ‘stole German jobs , political opponents were traitors, homosexuals were ‘impure’ and so on. The symbolic violence of words turned to real violence. This is the peril of being unaware of the impact disablist language can have – you need to distinguish between the metaphor and the person. And, at times, some words should be avoided altogether (such as feebl minded) because they are too toxic.

Yet, it’s not always that easy for some people to make a distinction between words and people. For example, I remember a few days ago hearing a monk on the radio asking his radio audience – do you want to live like the blind man who always blames others for his mistakes, and who believes he has all the answers? Yes, it was last month. Hopefully, he was referring to spiritual ‘blindness’ but it wasn’t clear if he was condemning sinners or blind people – or blind sinners.

Of course, going back to the disablist letter, I could have expressed the same thoughts without resorting to disablist language, like so:

Dear Editor,
I wish to state my dissatisfaction with the way the development board stubbornly went ahead with its plans. This, in spite of our protests which appear to have been ignored. As pointed out in our complaints, this development will serve to further congest traffic in our streets. I believe that the authorities should see that the project is stopped. I often wonder whether we are being led by incompetent decision makers.

So, there seems to be an alternative. Insulting in the right way...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aporia (3)

I feel that I must conclude this series of posts. Not that I have come to any conclusions on life and death. And I'm still not sure if I can be comfortable with the changes we're witnessing lately. The contradictions of modern Western civilization. It's an age where we insist on the protection of our rights and yet; the rights of others are often ignored or breached. We are happy to espouse the rhetoric of inclusion and equality but cringe when we have to apply these principles into practice.

May be we feel threatened by our differences as a human society, but that is no excuse to trample and even dehumanise people. This has happened in my case as a disabled person. And people still commit the same mistake of thinking that my body is a curse. That my life is a burden on my country. Words that are not spoken but often thought.

The same language of intolerance is invoked in the case of people having African descent. Those who denigrate these people do not admit to their racism but present themselves as patriots, defenders of our national cultural identity. Thus, contradicting the very same cultural principles of respect of other people coming from other cultural backgrounds. What is it - tell me, the cause of this vile intolerance to the other?

Don't they understand that we do not choose where we are born, whether we are male or female, whether we have an impairment, or that we are not always able to choose our life circumstances? Does it make sense to hate people because they are black? Because they happen to be Men or women? Or even because they are disabled? Yet, people do and will probably continue doing so.

Again, we forget that all of us must face death. That we all want to live a happy life. But, again, we may be afraid of change and remain attached to our inflexible worldviews where we know best, or to our desire to protect our 'identity'. Can I be angry at this reality? Would it solve anything?

What I know for sure is that, in view of death, life becomes precious and unique. Yet, it involves a degree of pain and suffering. But no real growth can take place if we are unwilling to face it. For we do not know what there is beyond this life. We don’t have all the answers. Can we afford to stop asking and wish for the ultimate unknown?

THE END

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aporia [2]

I left you last time with a question that will probably haunt me to the end of my days: Why are we here then?

We are born to this world, naked and in need of care. We move on to our childhood, youth and adulthood, often believing we know all there was to know. Then we have to face old age, with the consequences this brings with it. Possibly disease... or the acquisition of impairment? Changes that cannot be stopped, or can they?

I must have felt like a young 'old' man in my childhood years. I usually got tired easily and mostly enjoyed sedentary activities. Yes, reading, writing and listening to music ... and yes, watching TV and playing on my computer too (!) ... Except for the last two, these were hardly the things boys my age enjoyed doing very much (and computers were still new to Malta at the time).

However, even if it may appear as a 'sad' childhood, the truth was that I was happy and I really liked my lifestyle then. And, in any case, it was the best way I could think of spending my time.

I know that this series of post entries appears to depart from the usual kind of writing on this blog. But it's good to have a change, isn't it?

Perhaps not. We have become too resistant to change. Some are resorting to cosmetic surgery to restore their youthful appearance. Others wish to have assisted suicide legalised because they cannot see themselves living with a progressive chronic condition or after acquiring an impairment. Our instinct is to feel secure and safe. And when we are left to live in the shadow of an unknown future, our fears get the better of us.

But all these alleged 'solutions', only serve to sustain a myth that we can control our bodies and whatever happens to us. A myth that can destroy lives and even close the doors to a future ahead. Instead of taking the time to understand ourselves, we tend to seek easy ways to escape or destroy the ‘problem’ of the uncharted course ahead. But in order to survive, we need to be open to life’s transitions. Embracing change is not about giving up to it but means accepting the facts of life.

It means accepting that life is often what we make of it and that we can only be in charge of our mind while not expecting the world to change to appease us. A person whose body remains forever young is a dead one. And even then, the body will decay.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aporia [1]

I'm concerned about my country. I am worried about the state of the world we live in. But in truth I have always been. Life? It's full of beautiful things, opportunities and even holds the chance of a better future. Yet, it's also full of suffering. Natural disasters, tsunamis, storms, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions... all things we cannot control. Such a contradiction our lives are. Suffering and pain, and then, peace and happiness. Our world, a home, and yet we must leave one day.

Yes, it may seem as a sad truth that we all have to die. But there's no life without death. Growth without decay. One is neither good or bad. But, of course, we remain concerned and anxious when we are reminded - either through the death of a loved one or through a terrible event - of this reality. I am being morbid perhaps, but then, isn't it a certainty we cannot avoid?

Admittedly, I have never stopped thinking about my own mortality since I was six years old. Mind you, it wasn't an obsession or anything and I did have a happy childhood. Yet, early experiences sometimes compel us to delve into issues that, to an outsider, might appear dark and unsettling.

At times when I found myself alone, with my telescope pointed at the night sky, I wondered at the vastness of a silent universe ... Was our life important, and really, was my life of value?

In the darkest hours of our lives, we are made aware of our vulnerability and our fragile natures. When considering the possibility of my own mortality, I wondered whether all the things priests said about heaven or hell were true. I knew that there were other stories that explained life. The Greek had the Underworld and the fields of Elysium. The Egyptians believed in the continuation of an Earthly life provided their bodies were mummified.

And why are we here then?

To be continued...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Horrors of Little Boy

On August 6th, 1945, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. A simple enough statement but it doesn’t reveal the amount of destruction and devastation left on the many lives that were either lost or scarred forever. The mission in Hiroshima was hailed as a success. Three days after the attack on Hiroshima, the atom bomb, code named ‘little boy’, was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945. This effectively signalled the end of the conflict with Japan, bringing about Japan's unconditional surrender.

Many justifications for the use of ‘little boy’ have been put forward. The war had already been the cause of millions of fatalities, while the oppressive axis regimes had killed off millions more – a good number from their own people. However, the question whether the bomb was the only solution still haunts us to this day. For, whether we like to admit it or not, the people who were most affected by the bomb were innocent civilians going about their daily life.

Only those who were there can tell us what the bombings were like. How they were affected by the infernal landscape that was left. How they were burned by the sudden dose of heavy radiation. How it would affect their health, and their future generations. Only they can tell this story. Yet, it’s easy to judge those who approved such military action. But then again, was dropping the bomb worth it?

I don’t have the answers. If I had lived during the Second World War witnessing days and days of the same suffering, my ideas would have been different. All the same, such decisions reveal the horrifying nature of war which forces us to place survival over respect for other people’s lives. In other words, war dehumanizes us to the point we lose compassion for the other. Undoubtedly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been avoided. But history is now what it is.

All we can do now is to remember those whose lives were lost or blemished following the bombings. And hope, even in our troubled times, that these events don’t happen again. Even if, in truth, most of these decisions are made by those who lead us.

MORE INFORMATION:
Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Is walking everything?

On reading the story of a young woman named Vlada on a local newspaper, I found myself battling with a multitude of thoughts and emotions. You see, this young woman acquired a spinal cord injury a year ago following an accident in an entertainment club. Now, she uses a wheelchair and had to give up dancing and modelling. However, as she affirms in the report, she is determined to walk again. She plans to do so by raising enough funds to undergo experimental stem cell treatment in Russia. Those are some of the facts.

I have no problem with the idea of undergoing treatment to improve your health or condition. What worries me is the fact that throughout the report, we are given the impression that a non-walking existence cannot be a fulfilling or happy one, as expressed through phrases such as 'wheelchair bound' which give the impression that not being able to walk, 'imprisons us'.

Having said that, I understand the young lady's concern with dealing with her new reality as a wheelchair user. Indeed, when I had to use a wheelchair more regularly, I felt that I was losing part of me. Although I had walking difficulties even as a young boy, I was somewhat reluctant to accept that I now used a wheelchair. Ironically, however, becoming a wheelchair user opened up to me new opportunities and got me where I am today. The fact is that hadn't I discovered the wheelchair, my quality of life and by extension my happiness, would have been much lower - and not the other way round!

To return to our story, I can further empathise with the young woman who wishes to walk again... After all, she had to give up dancing and modelling while the sudden change from being a 'walker' to a 'non-walker' is a traumatic shift for any person to have to face. It's only natural for her to dream of the time she could dance or move around with relative ease. I cannot judge her for wishing that the operation she is collecting money for gives her back those things.

All the same, inasmuch as we are confident that we will recover or - in this case 'walk again''... and despite our determination in achieving these dreams, there is a point when we have to get on with our life. I recall the time when I used to force my legs to straighten up by putting heavy loads on my knees or else fervently pray to God for a miracle. I had hope. I had determination. I had faith too. But the 'cure' didn't happen. And, in a way, I'm happy it didn't.

For if I had been 'cured', I may not have met the friends I know today. I might not have got the job I do today or learned from a diverse range of people and gone through the experiences that helped mature me in many ways. Moreover, using a wheelchair has given me an independence that I never had before. And, yes, there are times when I'm filled with certain longing... especially when I see my little nephews running around. But life changes. Those who don't change with what life throws at them risk losing all that makes life good and worth it.

At this point, I want to make it clear that I wish Vlada all the best for any treatment she may undergo. At the same time, I hope that she also considers the possibility that things don't work out as planned. I have gone through such a disappointment one time too often. However, even if things may not turn out as hoped for, it's important to affirm that life goes on after acquiring an impairment. In fact, for me the process of acknowledging and acquiring my impairment has paved the way to a new beginning full of exciting possibilities ...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Why Michael Jackson is not a good role model

Jackson's death has been in the news for more than a week since 25 June. Hysterical fans grieving ... speculation about the cause of his death ... gossip on the fate of his children ... etc. However, I was surprised to hear that major leaders within the Afro-American community declared Michael Jackson a role model for future generations.

I was rather unsure whether I heard that statement well. Yes, he was very successful as a pop singer - in fact he was regarded as the 'king of pop'. It's even true that the boy Jordan Chandler who accused him of sexual abuse confessed he had lied about Jackson. But Michael Jackson, a role model for future black generations? I just don't agree.

Yes, he gained success in music. But, did they perhaps forget that Jackson also chose to undergo surgery to become whiter? Is that the actions of a man comfortable with who he was and of his black heritage? On the other hand, does that only affirm that being white is better and that black people should aspire to be white?

By proclaiming Michael Jackson as a role model, I fear that the Afro-Americann community is sending the wrong signals to young black people. This message, simply put, is that it's not really ok to be black but you can get better results in life if you are white. It's like telling me that if you want to be respected in society, it would have been better to be non-disabled. In this sense, the logical conclusion to this reasoning is that a society which holds white, male, heterosexual and non-disabled people on a pedestal - ignoring other groups - is a good society!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Deadly Decisions

I recently read a story regarding a Swiss-based assisted suicide clinic Dignitas.The story appeared on The Guardian and it revealed how a significant number of UK residents who made use of this service could have lived for more years if they had been provided with treatment and support that was available in the UK. It was particularly shocking to me because one of the victims of the Dignitas service was a person with rheumatoid arthritis, one of the conditions I acquired in 1999.

The findings revealed by this news article exemplify a deadly trend in our way of thinking about disabled people and their value to society. Indeed, at times, I suspect some governments would prefer giving us the death sentence rather than providing us with rights, including the right to access support services. Moreover, even if the interviewed doctors seem to be appalled by the premature killing of people having arthritis, or paralysis (for example), the deaths of other people with conditions such as MS are glossed over.

The problems with euthanasia are many. Personally, I can understand why some people might wish to end their lives. The fact is that when you acquire an impairment or a medical condition, it takes some time to adjust. And going on in the beginning is always hard and painful – even with support or lack of information. So, imagine someone waking up every day to face another day, not knowing if there will be an end in sight. This isolation and feeling of helplessness is a great source of pain and can often lead to suicidal feelings too.

Not to mention the pressures some disabled people may face from family members, or dealing with the guilt of being a burden. Undeniably, these are painful feelings and make you wonder whether you’re being selfish for wishing to live on. Unfortunately, in these circumstances, euthanasia – short of suicide – becomes a rather tempting option. And yet, euthanasia remains a final solution and an irreversible one. When there may be other solutions that could help in improving the situation.

However, euthanasia has implications far beyond the personal. It upholds an idea that death can be a way out of problems. It encourages a world view where we should give up living when we are faced by a stumbling block. Finally, it implies that there are lives not worth living. And this is the saddest part of all because decisions of this kind are never made in a clear state of mind – and sometimes forced by doctors or family members. And if I think about it, if you consider my impairments and medical conditions, my life could be easily regarded as one not worth living. But is it?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Forgetting Life

No one knows what there is awaiting us at the end of our lives. Atheists affirm that there is nothing. Simply an emptiness where we just disappear from history into a place, if you can call it that, with no meaning and no future. On the other hand, those who believe in God believe that yes, there is life beyond death.

To be honest, I am unsure myself of the answer to the question of whether there is an after-life. Not that I am in any hurry to satisfy my curiosity, and so I hope the grim reaper delays the answer for more years to come. Even if there was one time when I was really close to finding out the answer myself - following an episode of kidney bleeding in 1998.

However, I thought about death even before I had that episode. My brother died a few months after my birth and I am still unsure of what came of him. Or whether he's watching me after all those years. It may be a silly hope, I admit, but I want to believe in an after-life. On the other hand, the question of whether there is an after-life or not is not deadly important (I couldn't resist the pun)..

I mean if you consider the zillions of things which could have gone wrong in the formation of terrestrial life. The many other factors which could have annihilated the human race, preventing our evolution. And, as for me, I wouldn't be here if my family line hadn't survived through life in different environments, wars upon wars, diseases and natural disasters. And yet, with all this, I might not have been born either. Without chronicling my medical history, I am astonished that I made it to this day. If I had been born in a different time, or even another country, I might also have disappeared from blogging history. OK, forget the part on 'blogging history'... I do get carried away during these moments.

What I mean to say, it may make more sense to live our life to the full now rather to dwell on the fate that is out there. While, as I said in my previous posts, we should be aware of our own mortality, this should make us appreciate more of what we have and strive to improve on what is wrongly denied us or from others. Life is too unique and precious to debate on who is right or wrong, if there is a heaven or hell, if you;ll end up in nirvana or stuck in samsara. Not that I don't appreciate a philosophical argument of this kind once in a while.

Now anyone fancy playing hangman?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sympathising with Caliban

As I was reading the book The Creative Fire by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I came across the myth of Caliban. Although I was familiar with the character of Caliban found in Shakespeare's play > The Tempest , I was faced with a different kind of beast.

In this myth, Caliban is condemned on both counts. First, his body has been changed to become an ugly reptilian-like creature, and second, he is forced to live in a hostile swamp - away from all human contact. However, as in The Tempest, Caliban is obsessed with a woman who he wishes for himself. In the original myth, Caliban sends one of his creatures to steal the soul of his love interest each night when she is asleep to make her love him. However, Calibaan's attempts to seduce the object of his desire are to no avail as she refuses to give in to his advances.

On reading this myth, I felt that I could identify with many of Caliban's thoughts and feelings. Yes, his actions were most certainly wrong and ineffective. But it would be too easy to condemn Caliban if it weren't for the fact that there were times when I was made to feel quite like Caliban.

Not that I have lizard-like features as such. I don't have an extendible tongue or the capability to climb walls, for example. However, I did feel that my physical impairment at times caused discomfort among some. Or even shock, perhaps... The fact is that it's not uncommon to find that the so-called 'deformed' body has been used in myths and literature to denote impurity of some sort or other. Moreover, the implication of the term 'deformed' also implies the notion of a 'form', I allegedly deviate from. In this sense, Caliban and many people who are considered 'deformed' or 'imperfect' can be outcasted and made to feel unwelcome simply because of how we appear to them.

But then, surely I don't live in a swamp? No, but then again, I can say that I do experience a similar form of isolation. This is because the environment I live in is difficult for me to negotiate as I encounter different obstacles ranging from bad pavements to lift-less buildings.

Not to mention the fact that there are also implicit cultural barriers that are not easy to overcome if you're disabled. And this brings me to the last point that I feel draws me nearer to Caliban. The fact that Caliban, for all intents and purposes, is denied love. True, he is obsessed with his desire to possess this woman. But I expect the fact that Caliban was also an ungodly sight to behold didn't help his case a single bit.

Even if I'll leave it to my readers to decide from my profile photo whether I qualify as an ungodly sight, I think that many ideas about disabled people we are exposed to as children exclude us from love or equal relationships to that of others. Indeed, we are always expected to be 'normalised', to fit in and to accept our perceived misfortunes. Like Caliban, we are made to feel frustrated in our pursuit of love because we are at times perceived, often in secret, as not human enough.

This affinity with Caliban that I feltt on reading the myth proper is not without its dangers. We can't be obsessed with goals we cannot reach. We don't even want to waste our life in pursuit of things which remain beyond our control. However, there is much to be said in defence of Caliban since some of us may experience a sense of loneliness and isolation akin to the one faced by him. However, unlike Caliban, we still have the chance to fight the 'swamp' unless we don't lose ourselves into a hopeless obsession to become 'normal' when we are already fully human as we are now.

But, admittedly, it's not always an easy thing to do. But that might make it even a more worthwhile goal.

Monday, June 08, 2009

I'm Afraid of Fear!

It was Franklin D Roosevelt who once said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. These words were spoken during his inaugural address as US president when America was facing hard economic times during the 1930s Great Depression. While much can be said about the relevance of these words to our own times, with the collapsing markets and global recession, I want to focus more on the impact of economic collapse on society, and more specifically on the destructive power of fear.

Another episode from the 1930s can help us understand how easy it is to create a state of fear in the population. The event happened on a Halloween night of 1938. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had scheduled an adapted version of HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. However, the only idea that was retained from the original text was the one relating to Martian invasion. In this sense, the radio script contained references to real places in the United States with the Mars invaders landing in a part of New Jersey.

Orson Welles, who was an actor, producer and performer wanted to change the script in such a way as to make it more realistic sounding and the production now took the form of a music variety programme (which was common at those times) interspersed with news bulletins about the Martian invasion. No big deal, isn’t it? However, for many of those tuning in later and missing the introduction stating that this was simply a radio play; this was the end of the world as they knew it. Shockingly, many did believe that they were doomed and many people in the West and East coast of the US started fleeing their houses, calling the police and trying to save themselves and their families. Despite the disclaimers that were aired once the studio was given an indication of the impact of this broadcast outside, the damage had been done.

Why did people believe that Martians had invaded Earth? Apart from the realism of the production, there are a number of factors that made people panic in such a way. First, there was almost unquestionable faith in what radio says as a means of mass communication. Second, Americans were already at high stress levels with the looming of war in Europe. Finally, Americans were still facing the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.

All these reasons may have played a key role in creating panic and to fool otherwise rational people into believing Martians were planning to take over. However, the over-arching reason that I can think of to account for this irrational behaviour is our fear. Today, as in the 1930s, we are still plagued by the same fears, albeit going by different names. We fear uncertainty. We fear war – this time from North Korea or Al Qaeda. We fear for our future. We are more suspicious of people who come from outside our culture.

The economic downturn forces us to become ever more hostile to immigrants, people who have different beliefs or traditions. Unfortunately, our media does not help to educate us but is often agenda-driven and encourages us to inflate our fears by throwing data, statistics and claims about our impending doom. No wonder the far right is growing again in Europe. We are afraid of so many things. New scary things. Global terrorism, unemployment, material loss and climate change.

In this, the late 1930s has also much to teach us. A man rose in Germany during a time when Germany had lost World War I and was recovering from economic ruin. This man blamed the foreigners for Germany’s collapse, more specifically what he called the ‘polluting Jews’. He wanted all Jews, gipsies, and others to be denied their rights. He then also wanted to annihilate those he deemed a threat to the pure German ‘race’: starting with disabled people and then passing on to the Jewish people, gipsies, homosexuals, communist sympathisers and so on. They were bringing the German economy down and taking up German jobs, he said.

The man, as you can probably tell, was Adolf Hitler and his state was now called the Third Reich. And how did Hitler come to power? How do leaders who feed on hate, racial intolerance and half-truths gain power? Because they feed on our fear. On this natural instinct that can save us but that can ultimately destroy us. Sadly, in a Europe plagued by economic problems, we risk losing our humanity and give in to our tendencies to give in to fear. And believe that not Martians, but foreigners are planning to invade us. And that would be repeating history wouldn’t it? If not ending it…

Thursday, June 04, 2009

An Elusive Silence

Stop for a minute. Can you hear the noise around you? Can you notice any lights or other visual distractions around you? If you’re living in a populated area, you now probably realise that we’re being over-loaded by sounds and images. All the time.

Last night, for example, I had difficulty sleeping as someone in our neighbourhood decided to play new age music till late in the night. And I don’t like to listen to those loud beats and rhythms at that time! Especially if I want to get some rest after a day at the office. However, this sensory bombardment I faced seems to be a characteristic of modern technology. Instead of spending time reflecting on life, we are often forced to hearing and seeing diverse stimuli without actually listening or engaging with them.

Yes, I find technology has opened a lot of possibilities in my life today. Indeed, thanks to the computer and the internet, I can manage work and life in general - even more than before due to my visual impairment. But all technology has its downside. If we become too dependent on it to get solutions and advice – even opinions – we risk losing the capacity to think critically or reflect on what we consume. It’s like believing that the picture of a dog, for instance, IS a dog! OK, it’s Thursday evening and I’m out of better examples.

What I am trying to say is that there is sometimes too much happening in our life that we fail to experience life itself. Instead, we tend to be engaged in a reactive mode where we are stuck in our world view and where moments of silence remain elusive. and if you think about it, that’s not a very happy life to live…

Monday, June 01, 2009

Look In to Reach Out

It’s unusual for me to write on a Monday. At work, it was a bit hectic and I should be relaxing. The weekend was mainly characterised by reading, checking FaceBook and surfing the net for anything interesting. Right now I’m interested into learning about the origins of creativity and how the mind works in producing creativity. It’s really fascinating how complex our minds really are and how we take our consciousness for granted.

For you to read this post, for example, you need to be able to read or hear language, decode the meaning and coordinate your body to access the information from this page. And that’s not mentioning keeping the body functioning by inhaling and exhaling, etc. I guess I am rediscovering the joy of learning about new things. Or, rather, to learn a bit more about myself and my position in the world and in the universe.

Yes, last week was one full of contrasts. On one hand, I was happy that I had more free time to use for my reading but, on the other, I was saddened by the fact that I realised that I couldn’t continue feeding the feelings of love that had been developing for a person in my life. I won’t go into details about who she was but suffice it to say that it was the right thing to do dealing with my ‘love sickness’ given our particular life circumstances. Actually, a creative poem "Loving ... Her" [from my Zyhil blog] as I dealt with my emotions.

I don’t mean to say that I simply buried my feelings or turned my heart to stone. If the latter was true, I’d probably be undergoing a post-mortem exam right now. It means that even if our relationship is great, both have made different plans for our futures – and that’s life! In the past, I would have blamed my impairments right away. While this might apply in some cases, I don’t think that impairment is the reason for this sad result this time round.

In fact, the more I thought about this in the past, the more I realised that if a person thinks of you differently because you’re disabled, then what sense is it to pursue such a relationship in the first place? And often times I find that it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of believing a relationship is the be all and end all of our success or our happiness. It’s equally dangerous to equate success in love to your self-worth as a person. As a disabled person, I did feel of less value when I was not treated or valued as any other man because of my impairments. I can now assert that it’s foolish and can only lead to unhappiness.

To be in a relationship... It’s a great thing, I admit, but not the only great thing about our existence. I want to be in a relationship one day but I don’t want to force myself into one! I find that there is so much to learn about the world – not to mention about ourselves – that opens up a great number of connections and different kinds of relationships that may be very fulfilling.

That ‘s why I am trying to invest more time and energy in building a relationship with myself. That sounded very bad. What mean to say is that before I can give to another, I first need to know who I m better and what I can offer. Without knowing ourselves, we can only offer so much. And risk discovering a truth about who we are that puts us at odds with who we thought we were. To put it simply, I can’t believe in another unless I believe n myself. The alternative would be co-dependence.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memento Mori [2]

We move on as if we are immortal, untouchable by death, Living life escaping from death deluding ourselves that we will never die. And when death strikes close, our world suddenly collapses. We are left with a sense of unreality. As if this 'sudden change' could never have happened.

I don’t want to live like these others. I don't want to close my heart to the pain of other people. I don't want to find excuses for the state of poverty in our world. I don't want to seek refuge in prejudice to justify injustice and hate. I don't want to belong to the unquestioning herd. I always tried to do what is right. I failed at times but I tried.

A life I want to live again is a life where I am truly myself. A life, which requires me not to hide behind the mask of conformity. I have to lead a way of life that requires of me to rise from mediocrity and the status quo and espouse, again, the creativity and energy that life has given me.

Here, I return back to the beginning of my previous post. I want to understand myself. That is why I need to distance myself from the world at times. My life has to continue of course. But if I'm to find true happiness, what is required of me is to discover the purpose of my existence. This journey may take a lifetime. It will be full of ups and downs. Occasions when all seems to be going perfect and others when I feel stuck in an abyss of emptiness and despair.

There have been times when the pain was so great, living appeared not worthwhile. Times when the future seemed obscure and limited. These are the times when we have to prove ourselves. Many a life has perished at the sight of doom.

After all, our life may be just a road to discover why we are here, to know who we were at one point in our histories - to realise who we were always meant to be. For we all know where this road will lead. Not to Rome. Only to death! And in this awareness of my own death, I hope to have lived a life as close to what I was meant to live. For it's quite tragic to die without realising your own purpose.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memento Mori [1]

I woke up empty inside. In fact, I didn’t sleep that much either. It’s now more than a week since I resigned from my position within my organisation. Not that I’m regretting taking this decision. After all, I did want to dedicate more time to understand myself better before continuing with my commitment in disability activism. Or with life itself.

And life never works out the way you plan it. I was filled with great enthusiasm when I embarked on disability activism. And yet, there is still part of me that has been longing to get out. A side of me that I have so often obscured and hidden away from the world. As a child, I was taught a lot of lessons about life.

What about these lessons? We were taught not to lie, to be honest. Yet, out there many lie all the time. We thwart facts to suit our own agendas. We cheat social services and our governments. Worse of all, we lie to our loved ones and to ourselves.

We are also told to love and respect each other as brothers and sisters. Yet, the conflict between our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and in other geographical regions, the rising demons of xenophobia and racism in Europe, the implicit anti-Arab sentiments on one hand and the Anti-Semitic discourses on the other tell a different story. As we preoccupy ourselves with the state of our economies, we close our eyes to the poverty and suffering of other nations. We avoid this reality, which has been with us for decades.

But then, we have become numb to the death of others. We witness endless killings projected onto our TV screens, learn about them through our radio sets and find them stamped on our newspapers. The reality of death has been commercialised and trivialised. The death of a person is just another item on the list of everyday news. As insignificant as yesterdays gossip. We don't stop and think that a unique person has been lost to the world. - The creation of whom was a singular event in the history of the universe, a person who is irreplaceable. A life that no one can live again.

To be continued ...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Letter: A Passage to Independence

I have read with interest the many contributions regarding independent living for disabled people in this newspaper. As a person with a disability, I have a personal interest in any discussion on this important right.

However, the issue of independent living is not a simple topic and requires us to have a clear policy that addresses the situation of people with disabilities having different impairments, as well as those individuals who have complex or maximum support needs.

It's crucial to point out that independent living goes beyond the provision of accessible housing or personal assistance and support. Undeniably, these are two central principles underpinning independent living but they do not guarantee this right. In fact, the philosophy of independent living stresses the importance of having an opportunity to choose how we live our lives and thus exert self-determination. In this sense, personal assistance that does not fulfil these two principles cannot guarantee our independence on their own.

Agenzija Sapport has been doing a great job in ensuring disabled people continue living in their own communities. Moreover, at the basis of its mission statement is a commitment to involve disabled people at every stage of service provision.

However, Sapport is forced to work within limits - both in terms of financial and human resources. It cannot be emphasised enough that this agency needs more state funding to ensure it continues assisting people with disabilities remain in the community and contribute to work while participating in the life of their community.

However, for us to have the opportunity to live independently, we also need to have equal access to mainstream buildings and services, to transport and housing, for example. In addition, we should not be excluded from education and employment opportunities and to be given chances like our able-bodied peers.

Such access would enable us to be empowered while being active contributors in our society while helping the economy by being workers and consumers.

On another note, we need to revise our current benefit system by assigning benefits to people with disabilities according to their particular impairment needs and social situation. This would ensure that people with disabilities and families requiring substantial financial assistance receive adequate aid.

I believe that people with disabilities should involve ourselves in any debate on independent living. I feel it's important for us to transcend our own impairment group and recognise the right for independent living as the right of every disabled person - irrespective of impairment. As a person with a physical disability, I cannot ignore the importance of intellectually disabled people having their right to independent living respected. In addition, we also need to be open to the views of parents of people with disabilities, who cannot represent themselves on this matter.

Only by being a united front can we truly move forward on this and other issues. However, a word of caution: although we should welcome the interest of political parties on this and similar issues, we should be careful not to turn this issue into a partisan issue.


Source:

Cardona, Gordon C. (10/05/2009) "A Passage to Independence" in: The Sunday Times of Malta Online, http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090510/letters/a-passage-to-independence (Accessed 10 May
2009)