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

Saturday, December 03, 2011

International Day of disabled People 2011

Today is international day of disabled people. Although there is still much to be done to ensure disabled people, like myself, have true equality and full inclusion in our countries, I must admit that a lot of positive progress has taken place. In this post, I wish to share a few thoughts on one such important development - the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People by the United Nations.

The Convention is a significant step forward because it redefines the old idea of ‘disability’ that predominated action in the field of disability which was mainly medically based favouring treatment and rehabilitation, to one that acknowledges that a large part of disability is created by an society that takes little or no account of those members having sensory, physical or intellectual impairment, mental health issues or other hidden conditions. In short, the Convention introduces the idea that disability exists in relation to factors that are, for the most part, external to the person. This relational model shares many features to the social model (despite the fact there are differences).

That is why when the Convention was formally adopted by the UN on December 13th 2006, one can say that we made a breakthrough insofar as having our rights finally acknowledged and the fact that our disability is mainly due to the failure of society and the environment to cater for our physical or mental differences. In short, finally we had a tool by which we can direct our governments to ways in which they can truly provide us with our human rights. It’s true that there are countries which haven’t yet signed it, and even less which ratified it but, I think, it’s up to all of us within the disability community and our allies who must make our voices heard. It can be frustrating, I know, but we must own the struggle to ensure that disabled people don’t remain simply objects of pity and charity but they are involved in society on an equal level to that of non-disabled people.

A final point I wish to make that I think is important is that the UN Convention is not creating new rights that are specific to disabled people. Rather, it is providing states with clear practical guidelines on how to ensure our rights are safeguarded and necessary action to achieve equality is taken. In truth, if you consider that impairment can affect all of us at some point in our lives, especially in old age, the Convention is also there to ensure that the quality of life of the future you will not regress just because you have acquired an impairment. Inasmuch as this day is one dedicated to disabled people, it is also a day that reminds me of the fact that we should celebrate difference and our ability to strive on in spite of the obstacles we still face in our society and our environment.

To read or download the UN Convention, please visit the UN Enable website where you’ll also find a lot of other useful resources related to the Convention.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adventures on Arriva!

A way back in July, I reported how in Malta, an accessible public transport service had been introduced. Now, after using it for my 5th time, I can say that I’m satisfied on the whole but acknowledge that there needs to be better time keeping. However, I definitely think that the service we have today is far better than we had before.

For starters, riding on a bus may not mean much for the general public. However, as a wheelchair user who has been excluded from using public transport for more than 10 years now, it is progress. Again, it might not mean much for the average person but being with other people on regular transport does give me back some dignity. Don't get me wrong, I will still make use of the accessible van for work and such and I have made good disabled friends on my travels. Yet, there’s no denying that the accessible transport I use remains a segregated form of transport and inasmuch as it is improved, it still separates me from my community and was the only choice I had up to now.

Of course, the new accessible public transport is far from perfect. I spent one hour waiting for a bus the first time I used it. On later dates, the waiting varied from 15 to 30 minutes which is quite frustrating and forget getting to an appointment on time unless you plan ahead. And yet, I cannot really complain that much and you know why? Because for the first time, I can grumble and complain with the public. You see, my discomfort is a shared thing. It’s not just users of the ‘disabled vans’ they wrongly sometimes referred to) as) who are inconvenienced but every body (disabled or not!!

To wrap up, I want to make it clear that I believe that the service still needs fine tuning. However, if I had to compare the new public transport service with the one we had before, Arriva! wins hands down. Yes, it has been claimed that our old fleet with all the coloured buses gave them character. To this, I say, I rather want a bus I can use rather than one I can only look at as it passes me by. At least now, I can be up there with other passengers! after all, we must look ahead and not live in a past that so often is idealised and hence distorted.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

On this day... my birthday!

On November 8, 1981, I was born. As I celebrate my 30th birthday, I can't help reflecting on how significant this day is. For, if you think about it, this day was when it all started, when I took that first breath of air with my own mouth. We say that life is a miracle that it has become a cliche. Something we say out of habit rather than reflection or much  thought. This same "miracle of life" quickly becomes the source of a lot of complaining and, in fact, some of us have even come to the point when we wished we hadn't been born at all. But, then, is this because we take life for granted. Believing that we should always get what we expect or what we want. 

I am 30 today. Yet, as I write that number, I realise that over the years, it's not just my age that has changed. Indeed, I'm not the same baby boy born back in 1981. I am not the same 5 year old starting primary school. I am not the same person who  loved to write. I am not the same person who was admitted to hospital. Or the one who graduated. Or the one who attended Church. That is my past. That is who I was. 

Mind you, the past remains an influence on my present but it is something that I have no control over. It would be foolish to keep clinging to what was as if we could reclaim our youth or innocence. It is also foolish to believe that we are who we are today because we worked for it and that we can lay claim to independence and autonomy. Indeed, my re-discovery of Buddhism and my recent experiences has made me aware that much of who I am today isn't a matter of my personal decisions  - although our decisions play an important part in our life. On the contrary, we are who we are today because of  the experiences we have in our life, the things we learn and the people around us and those we meet in our lives.

Thus, on this day, I  must reflect on who I am and where I am heading and ask myself what have I done over the course of my 29th. Of course, this year was full of its ups and downs; moments I am proud of and others I am not quite happy with and I made new friends and went through new experiences. But inasmuch as I would like to believe I made it through out of my self-determination, deep inside I know that all the people in my life - friends and even enemies, family and strangers, things I read or heard and so on, played a crucial role in getting me through the hard times and also where there in my happy times.

So, what I want to say is that I am grateful for all this and more. I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for the persons in my life. And even if we don't get to say it often...

Thank you for making my life possible!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pretending to be Deaf… for Cash?

During the summer holidays, we move for a few weeks to our summer house. While, the move is quite a headache - especially for me - I get to enjoy eating out on the weekends. This is far easier in summer as there are a good number of restaurants that set up their tables on the promenade. It’s quite nice to dine in the evening facing the sea and feeling the breeze and listening to the sound of the sea as it rocks the fishermen's boats..

It was on one of that nights that a young lady who was probably from an Eastern European country placed a few ornaments on our table accompanied by a note in Italian. I was particularly disturbed by the note which was read to me. Indeed, this note was telling us that she was a deaf person who didn’t mean to bother us. However, she was only asking us to give her a minimum donation of 5 Euro, and, in exchange she would give us one of the ornaments as a thank you.

While I felt sorry for the young lady, I also knew that it would be wrong to give her money - even if she was offering me a gift in return. I knew that charity wouldn’t improve the girl’s situation. But, I also knew that my Deaf friends wouldn’t be happy to know that persons like this girl were going around telling people how tragic their life was because they were deaf by handing out notes only aimed to pull at people's heartstrings telling them how their lives without hearing was such a sad and tragic one.

Undoubtedly, other people gave in to their emotions. But I was more suspicious when she opened her pouch to give change to her new clients to reveal stacks of Euro news. And, then, I asked myself whether she was deaf in the first place. I am now almost certain she was not. It was just an act. She was not even poor but was probably being exploited to do this by someone else as what I would discover is a scam. Indeed, when I arrived home, I wanted to do some research on whether the episode that happened on that night had happened elsewhere. You know what? I was right, similar incidents were reported across Europe as a scam (refer to this article).

What is sure is that this incident says a lot about the attitudes that still exist in our society about disabled people. Many of us cannot imagine a life without music, noise and speech. However, being Deaf is an experience shared by millions of deaf people worldwide who enjoy life as much as we do. Deaf people who go to school, study, work and have built their own families and, yes, have children of their own too. Perhaps our own prejudice about the ‘tragedy’ of living a life without hearing emerges out of the fact we try to imagine how it’s would be like to be deaf when we’ve come to take hearing for granted. Unfortunately, our assumptions are based on a degree of ignorance, if not plain arrogance as we consider those who are Deaf as ‘less fortunate’ than us.

The truth is, however, that we are considering things only from our point of view. We underestimate that we, as human beings, can adapt and thrive in our different ways. Undeniably, this isn’t implying that acquiring a hearing impairment later on in life is not painful and requires us to make significant changes in our life. What I’m saying is that we should understand that a life that would appear unbearable to us can be a full life and we, who are different, are whole human beings. Indeed, we have much to learn from our human diversity and take a step back before making unsound judgments.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blog-o-genesis: 5 Years Later

It's already 5 years from that fateful day on the 28th August 2006 when a younger Gordon was embarking on a journey into the u exciting world of blogs, bloggers and blogging. The aspirations I had for this blog were expressed in the first post I ever wrote . As I announced to the world that A New Blog is Born, I was still getting used to a life as legally blind which, on top of my physical disability, was the cause of many questions. But by 2006, I had become used to my new life as a visually impaired physically disabled person. The problem remained the way people still looked at me. But, then, the point of blogging in the first place was to put across the fact that my life wasn't that different than that of other people. I only did things differently;.

By the time I started this blog, I was involved in disability activism. On discovering the social model of disability, I realized that what I suspected but didn't have the words to express, was true. I had the words to explain that my impairments weren't the source of all my problems but, rather, the way society was organized - in a way as NOT to take people like me into account and in the way it perceived impairments. I know that my impairments pose their limitations. For example, I gave up the dream of obtaining first place in the New York marathon. But, perhaps, I tend to be slightly ambitious. I remain a disability activist to this day but have matured in the way I look at the future over the years. This blog, in a way, has grown up with me over the last 5 years.

I used to it as a diary, an opinion column, a place where I could express my creativity… It was the lace I could write about what interested me and what I wanted to share with the world. It was whee I described how it felt to be blind, and about my experiences after my right eye's vision was partly restored. It was where i spoke of love and loneliness in poetry and prose - which eventually led me to set up the blog Zyhil>. I spoke about some events which were happen'tin my life, such as my graduation in Leeds and the incidents which happened on my visit there. It was through blogging that I could expose, for the first time, a story I had written when I was bracing a serious health crisis. The book, Cosmos could now be available to a wider audience than I ever could imagine through traditional press publishing. I don't pretend it's a masterpiece, but it was the product of a youthful Gordon which remains part of who I am today.

Of course, I cannot deny that I started blogging to gain a degree of fame and popularity. Indeed, vanity did play some part in my early days of blogging. So many things have changed since 2006 that it would take a lifetime to chronicle here. Moreover, I've got a life to live, work to do, friends to make and experiences to go through. Indeed, my recent investigation of Buddhism has dramatically changed my outlook on life. I know that I haven't talked a lot about this here but today I am exploring more and more my spiritual dimension. Not that I wasn't interested in this aspect of myself before but I had neglected it in the past. Thus, this year I started a new blog to explore my life experiences from a different angle than I do here. In this blog, I ask myself questions that relate to the meaning of life and the nature of reality as I grow in my understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The ZoneMind may not be your cup of tea but you can't please everyone.

I have also tried podcasting over these years with varying degrees of success. The truth is that podcasting involves more than I thought, so I had to close down my ZoneCast. However, I recently discovered a service called AudioBoo which permits me to podcast much quicker and easier than ever before. I admit that my voice isn't that radiogenic (is that a word.?) but if you want, you can check out my channel GordonGD's AudioBoos. I hope you enjoy listening… Well, while I'm at it I must admit that I also experimented with YouTube videos but although I have a YouTube Channel, I don't dedicate much time to video recording, so I guess it's just experimental which is code for amateurish.

But enough of self-promoting my online content… It's time to wrap it up!

Yes, Gordon's D-Zone will remain as long as I am involved in disability activism. However, I wanted to talk about how my family of blogs and other online activities have developed over these 5 years. Of course, you can find links to all my blogs and more on my site at gordonGD. All in all, besides the factors that have prompted me to start my first blog explained here, perhaps my greatest motivation came emerged from a need to tell the world that I am who I am today because of my impairments and not in spite of them. That even if there were times when I wished I had no impairmentts, having them opened my mind to unique experiences that I wouldn't have had if I was non-disabled. That my differences prompted me to question convention since I was always, to some extent, an outsider.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Crip in the Hall

A song of revolution based on part of Pink Floyd's hit "Another Brick in the Wall". I wrote these lyrics thinking about the cuts on personal assistance services occurring across Europe. It's also a criticism of the medical model and its persistent influence on our lives by reducing our life choices:

We don't need no institution
We don't need no care control
No intrusion in our private lives
Give us back our independence!

Doctor, leave those crips alone
Hey, doctor, leave those crips alone

All in all, it's just another crip in the hall
All in all, you're just another crip in the hall
"You! Yes, you! Behind that stethoscope!

PS: I don't intend this to be a song against doctors and others working in the health professions. However, it's a song against the tendency of medical professionals to look at our lives as disabled people simply in terms of the medical model, attributing all our problems in life to the fact we have an impairment. Believe me, I've met many good doctors and nurses in my life that have been of great help and, in fact, saved my life. But it's a fact that we aren't solely the products of our impairment - a point that unfortunately, hasn't got through in our society.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Into the Internet Wilderness

Into the Internet Wilderness (mp3)

This is my last entry. At least, it'll the only one I will be writing for the next two weeks for sure. I'm also stopping from using social network for the coming two weeks. I have been thinking of becoming an Internet hermit for a while since I started my investigation of the nature of life through my study of Buddhism.

I knew that I had become too reliant, and perhaps dependent, on social media. While our dependent natures are inescapable realities, not all forms of dependence were beneficial. And, I started wondering whether my use of social networks, and by extension, the Internet, getting out of hand?

Was I perhaps hiding from a part of myself which I was reluctant to recognize or accept - preferring instead to choreograph a virtual life and masquerade as a person who was happy enough. At the same time, sincerely attempting to live up to an illusion with all the good intentions.. At the end of it all, I am asking who I had become to my inner self. Could I the free again from the imposition of a disillusioned identity I had created myself?

More fundamentally, I have been asking myself whether I had allowed my Internet alter ego take over the basic values and aspirations I had before I became involved with the network. Admittedly, it wasn't that bad because I did make new friends and expanded my contacts. However, despite the friendships i have made and will make through social media, I think that it's more worthwhile if I took a step back and examine who I am in the context of a changing reality.

Regrettably, I know that the modern world prevents me from being completely separate from the web of the internet spider. Indeed, I will have to keep using email to keep up with my work commitments. However, this fact that doesn't mean that I have to think of myself as a technological "slave". I believe that it is a matter of being mindful of your thoughts and feelings when using technology. Taking care to put it in the right place and not giving it power it does not have in its own right.

I admit, I don't know if I will succeed in living without the use of social media for these two weeks or so.I will do my best to keep up away from social networks. I hope to learn something about myself and will come back with my observations on the The ZoneMind by the end of these two weeks.

So, until the 22ndAugust 2011, I'll be off from social networks, new media, and other forms of internet communication - with the exception of email. Until that date, I wish you all the best!!!

Marsaxlokk, Malta
Tuesday, 9th August 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Ride the Bus or Not to Ride? Finally a choice...

When I was in Leeds last year, I was pleasantly surprised that I could board almost any bus with my wheelchair. I was reminded of this since following a National Transport Reform, Malta's public transport is now made up of a fleet of low floor busses allowing wheelchair users to travel around Malta. Even if I haven't yet tried the service yet, I hope to try it out as soon as as some teething problems with the system are resolved.

Yes, it would be great if I had greater choice about the transport system I can use to meet my travel needs. Before I became a full-time wheelchair user about 10 years ago, I used to manage to climb the steps of the old buses and until a few years ago, once I started using a wheelchair, I thought that I would never be able to use public transport again. And given that I don't have enough functional vision to drive a car, that rules out driving a car. Unless, of course, they don't start producing smart cars that provide blind or visually impaired people with greater control and information about their environment.

I cannot emphasize enough how important mobility and travel are in my life. Indeed, while there are lots of benefits with working via the internet, this is not a solution to providing employment to disabled people. Home might be a compromise for working a few days every so often, but this kind of online employment, to term it that way, does not promote structural changes in buildings or information systems, but rather reproduces a subtler form of segregated employment. As far as my social life goes, I admit that I like to explore social media and have made many contacts through FaceBook, Twitter and have experimented with blogs, podcasts, and short youtube clips. However, I would still much prefer to talk to my friends in person as I feel that being in the presence of a real person can provide a unique kind of connection.

I believe that improving transport services in a way that they take into account a large number of the population (including the elderly, adults with pushchairs, etc.) is a a positive step in the right direction. However, it's also important to keep working to make the built environment which includes not just buildings but also pavements, roads and open spaces to the greatest number of people, including blind and visually impaired persons, people with a mobility impairment, Deaf and hearing impaired people. Taking into account the existing diversity within the disabled community helps to ensure that real inclusion is achieved.Besides, in no way should measures to make our environment more accessible be construed as a "special provision targeted at disabled people" as it has been in the past. Indeed, the reality is that as people age, it is usually the case that the incidence of acquiring an impairment increases. True, as disabled people, accessibility is essential but it's also true that an accessible world is also a comfortable one. Remember life without a car?

Undoubtedly, we cannot expect that a world largely shaped by an industrial mindset which tended to exclude parts of population who were considered unfit to work because they could not operate rigid machinery (as with disabled people) or through sexist bias, much more needs to be done to achieve a state of inclusion where everyone is valued and can contribute to society wit proper support when necessary. Indeed, the human resource remains the not precious and irreplaceable asset - especially as we are still recovering from a global economic recession. After all, human rights and dignity should come before any economic interests.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

‘Reverse the Bias Towards Segregation’ campaign : demo on June 29th Westminster

‘Reverse the Bias Towards Segregation’ campaign : demo on June 29th Westminster

Please support our UK disabled friends and their allies in their attempts to stop the UK's government's attempts to re-introduce segregated education.

Today it may be UK disabled children and future generations who face this threat, but tomorrow it may be YOU!!!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Majority votes Yes For Divorce: Final Reflections

I thought that since I have brought up this issue on my blog in my last entry, I need to
update those who read it. Almost a week has passed since the referendum on
divorce resulted in a majority voting in favour of divorce legislation. I
can't say I am happy with that result but I can only hope that this will not
compromise the stability of the family. But, of course, it would be naive of
me to think that things will remain the same when it comes to relationships
and marriage.

It's a fact that Malta, like any other society, is changing. This change
need not be necessarily bad or negative. However, I believe that in today's
world, it is even more important that we listen and try to understand those
who are different than us. There has been radical progress in communication
systems around the world. And communication remains of fundamental
importance in sustaining human relations. So, it's not an issue that only
relates to couples. It is an issue that affects each one of us.

But, are we better communicators? Sure, we have the technology but are we
truly relating to one another? Taking the local campaigns on divorce that
happened locally, I am afraid that both sides were forcing their own points
without bothering to consider the other side's argument. However, divorce
isn't a simply an issue that can be debated in terms of good and evil as,
sadly, happened. Good for whom? Bad for whom? How will society be affected?
How will individuals and families be affected?

These questions were never asked - let alone answered! And these remain
important questions. Of course, time will tell how divorce will affect our
society. I reiterate my hope that good will come of this. Perhaps we'll wake
up to the fact that we are not instilling our children with human values
based on respect, understanding and acceptance of others who may be
different than we are. Truly, I wish that we take this opportunity to invest
into education based on human principles that are vital in order to build a
better society.

And this doesn't just apply to Malta but I dare say to the world we live in.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Till divorce do us part...

I decided to vote NO to the introduction of divorce for the upcoming referendum. I am not taking this decision on the basis of my religion or belief. Rather, I base my judgment on the simple fact that if I voted yes to divorce, I would be deciding without knowing the possible implications divorce will have on Maltese society as a whole and on the family in particular. Granted, both pro and anti divorce camps have cited evidence that support their arguments. However, useful as they may be, studies conducted abroad go only as far as providing examples of potential scenarios. Indeed, to have a proper insight on the possible impact of divorce legislation, it is crucial that we examine the state of the Maltese family and also take into account our particular cultural, historical and economical characteristics essential if we really want to encourage stronger marriages.

Unfortunately, instead of considering how, for example, divorce will affect future generations or those at risk of poverty and social exclusion, some are exploiting the divorce debate to forward their anti-clerical agendas. While I agree that there needs to be more separation between the state and the Church, using divorce to achieve this goal is both irresponsible and, yes, selfish. As a non-practicing Catholic, I feel that my voice and opinion is being misrepresented as fundamentalist simply because I happen to agree with the Church’s position on the issue. In addition, people who are against divorce like myself are further being accused of ‘imposing’ their views on others and only thinking of their own interests.

However, aren’t we imposing divorce on future generations? Especially, if you consider that we are taking a leap in the dark since we have not bothered to understand why some marriages are failing. Have we stopped to reflect on the causes of marital breakdown in the first place? Have we explored ways to alleviate the pain and suffering of couples experiencing problems and invested in providing proper support and guidance? Have we asked ourselves whether couples are committing themselves to marriage without really appreciating that a married life has its ups and downs? Are we bringing up our children to develop the values of love and respect for others and the skills of listening and communication – so essential for any human relationship and for a healthy married life in particular?

Thus, I sincerely believe that the only responsible answer to the question posed by the divorce referendum is a NO vote. In a future when I am faced by evidence to suggest that divorce will be of benefit to Malta, I might reconsider my stance. But only if such a decision is for the common good and not based on anyone’s personal agendas. Call me egoistic, but at the moment, if I decide to marry in the future, I will do so with a commitment to a life together with my partner till death divides us. After all, in Malta, very few are forced into marriage. But, sadly, very few take the time to understand each other.

Background Information

Malta is the only European member state with no divorce legislation. Even if Malta recognizes the status of foreign divorcees, Maltese people cannot be divorced locally while the process of attaining a divorce involves considerable cost and time. While there have been debates on whether divorce should be introduced in the last few years, a decision to hold a referendum over the issue was reached following the approval of a private members bill proposed by a government MP. The issue of divorce in Malta is still highly controversial, dividing the public between those who are in favour and those who are against.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Roman Catholic Church still plays an influential position in Maltese society and its strong objection to divorce appears to have exposed a movement that wants to remove the power of the Church in society. To be fair, the Church still plays a considerable amount of influence but, on the other hand, it must be said that it also offers a wide range of social services and support to those in need which is not available by the state.

The debate on the referendum scheduled for Saturday, 28 May, has ended up with issues related to religious teachings with those who are in favor accusing those against divorce of imposing their religious views on others who may be facing difficult marital breakdowns. Ironically, those in favour of divorce have made it a point to emphasize that they are "practicing Christians" but respect the right to others of a different view to choose over their life.

While there is some merit to this reasoning, it is problematic as the pro-divorce lobby has persisted in labeling those who hold another view as, amongst others "selfish", "heartless" and "fundamentalist". However, for those who feel that divorce may be the solution based on evidence or lack of it, the battle that drags in religion into the debate only helps to alienate people, like myself, who hold a stance against divorce unless persuaded otherwise.

The referendum law will decide whether or not a legislation to permit a couple to divorce and remarry after they have been legally separated for at least 4 years. The introduction of divorce has been hailed by the pro-divorce movement as giving another chance to women experiencing domestic violence, while the anti-divorce group has highlighted the harmful implications it will have on children and on the concept of marriage itself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What would you do?

Recently, I stumbled upon a video originally produced by ABC News for a series called What Would You Do? which explores social behavior in difficult or problematic situations. While there are many clips which set me thinking on my own reactions to particular scenarios where I could risk getting seriously injured (such as if was witness to a hate crime), it was a surprise to discover two clips tackling abuse or exploitation of disable people and to gauge the people's response to such treatment.

The first video concerns a blind person who is cheated of receiving proper change as other customers look on. Will they intervene? It's also interesting to note the difference in the reaction between a blind woman being cheated ddas against a blind man. The second video investigates whether non-disabled customers will intervene when am intellectually disable employee is harassed by an abusive customer (an actor).

What I liked about these clips are:

1. All the actors playing the part of a disabled persons ARE actually disabled people! You'd be surprise how many non-disabled people play the part of a disabled person.
2. The show is not a candid camera and we learn about the experiences of both the unaware participants and the actors themselves.
3. The setup is professional and emergency and law enforcement are aware of what will be happening that day.

While the results of this participatory-type research cannot be generalized, they do provide insight into how people behave when faced with situations where our social values are put to the test. These clips might also help in providing ideas for further research. But that's my academic side writing. Here are the videos:

Stealing from Blind Customers

Verbally Abusing a Disabled Grocery Clerk

You'd be surprised to discover how different people reacted when confronted with blatant abuse and harassment. Another interesting video is unrelated to disability targeted abuse but I wish to share it here as well because on watching it, you'll realize how the most unlikely of people may be the ones to help and fight for others.

Would you stop a hate crime?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Euthanasia: Is it a good death?

Unfortunately, there are more countries and states were the right-to-die movement is growing in strength and support. The argument brought forward by proponents of this dubious right has revolved around emotional bids to end the suffering of certain people by ending their miserable lives. It's always framed in terms of compassion and, ultimately, to do "what is vest for that person".

It's also a sad fact that among the people who have lobbied for euthanasia and its variant, assisted suicide, there were disabled people themselves and parents or next of kin. Again, our heartstrings are pulled as we hear how unbearable life has become - especially after the acquisition of a limiting medical condition.

True, any form of pain - whether physical or psychological - cam make you wish you were never born at all. Indeed, the thought of 'ending it all' passes through many of our minds whether we want to admit it or not. This may be a shock to some but there were times in my life when I considered to commit suicide

That act, however hushed, is often a symptom of another deeper problem. A failure, perhaps, of a society that has become unaware of its own faults. In my case, a silent majority, if they look at me on the streets, might assume that my Life is less than theirs just because I use a wheelchair and have a visual impairment. And thoughts like this that plague you when you're in excruciating pain. Or when you try to earn a living and go on with your daily business when you are told you have to make do with second best. Or that you have to go somewhere else as they only have stairs or, that they don't cater for people like me. It is this that blows the pain out of proportion and drains your will to live.

Thankfully, I found the support I needed from friends, family and professionals. Pain medication also helped. After all, I'm not implying that pain isn't real. What I'm saying that we often stop at looking at a person's life as if we empathize with his or her suffering. We may also sincerely believe that his or her life is not worth living. We may, in the name of a cruel mercy, assist in killing him or her. Rejecting under the pretense of love and compassion.

I know it sounds like a sermon - it's Sunday after all and assuming you're a Christian - but it's really a few thoughts I wished to share. Just ask yourself why some are expressing a desire to die or for their loved ones to die. Are our support services failing to meet the needs? Are our societies persisting in excluding us who are physically, sensorily, intellectually or psychologically diverse? Are we attaching human value to an unattainable ideal with a life that must be rid of pain and suffering that is unavoidable?

I fear what I would have done in those dark times when living appeared futile and without purpose. If I could ask an agency such as the Swiss Dignitas then, would have I insisted that I saw no point in it all. Would I be ... Typing this post here today?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

No Tears for Osama

It seems that 2011 continues to be a year Full of surprise and unexpected turns an twists. The end of April was no exception with a royal wedding at the start of the weekend as well as a beatification on Sunday. Interestingly, both ceremonies derive from old traditions going back at least a thousand of years - the British monarchy and the Catholic Church.

And then, the following Monday, we were told that the most notorious terrorist of the 21st century had been killed. Even if the fact his body was thrown to the sea as part of a burial rite has prompted a number of conspirators to shed some doubts on whether this was really bin Laden, i find little reason to doubt the claims made.

Undoubtedly, the image of Osama will bring out ugly and painful memories for many people, especially those who's lives have been directly affected by the actions of this man and his followers. On the day osama's death was announced, celebrations erupted across the globe. There I was a bit confuse as people as they celebrated the death of this man.

Don't get me wrong now. What Osama did in his life was horrible and inhuman. I can't feel sad that he is dead. What I can be sad about is the fact the world, in a way or another, created someone capable of so much hate and destruction. Because, as a matter of fact, Osama was an ordinary nan and inasmuch as we try to deny it or demonizing bin Laden, this destructive potential is within our reach.

In other words, we may have killed off a bad branch but we haven't defeated terrorism. It is true there will be no tears for Osama bin Laden but I think that we need to look beyond military force alone but realize that the war against terrorism is primarily a war like no other in the past. Its battlefield is the hearts and minds of people. It justifies itself by preying on people's pain and injustice to fuel hate and violence.

Finally, the only way to prevent another Osama from spreading their message of fear, hate and intolerance is to work together as one world to create a state of peace, justice and mutual understanding. This is in many ways an idealistic vision but it may the only answer to the challenges we face in today's world.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beyond the Limits of Easter

I must admit that I'm not a practicing Catholic for some years now but that doesn't make me an atheist or agnostic in any way. While I believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in doubting the existence of God, or as in atheism, going as far as denying God, I need a spiritual basis for my life or a meaning beyond material. Over the years, I come to appreciate the teachings given to humanity from various world religions coupled by philosophy and science.

If I could describe what my spiritual search has been about I would say that it was a search for meaning concerning the purpose of our lives and a concern of why we have to die. I had more personal preoccupations especially those concerning my impairment. It was painful to be told, as a boy, that I have somehow sinned to be lane, or be made to bear the responsibility of sainthood or the like. In the end of it all, I felt to be someone but never fully hunan. I clung to a positive image of myself but it was often a reaction to what others thought about who I was. Science, my other refuge, opened up a new world. Sadly, it was far from objective as it claimed. I was a defective human being who would never live the mythical 'normal' life but could only do that through medical intervention of the aggressive kind. In a sense, it was not that different than the pressure to pray more and be dipped into the water of Lourdes to get a miracle! Indeed, I felt betray by most things I read and had to undergo. I was simply a

But then did I had to believe the idea I was faulty? Did I have to accept to be virtual outcast from the society I lived? Did I have to remain apart from the world, but never part of it?

After all, 'belief' is such a personal thing. Especially when it concerns the core of your spirit. Indeed, I never chose to be a Catholic or a Maltese citizen for that matter. Even if I did benefit from both opportunities. However, I have decided that I need to find my own purpose and strive for a higher value unbound by geography, culture, ideology, religious, sex, impairment, race, etc. A space where I'm free to be and where I can ask and doubt without fear. A place that is not imposed upon me, predefined and predestined in some way. This location doesn't exist in the real world but it's where we may find our common link as human beings.

I might sound rather mystical in this post and I do. All the aspects of who we are I mention below remain important as they make us who we are and make our world an exciting planet. However, if we think that our belief is superior enough to come before human life and dignity, then it's not worth it.

This place I write about is within us. It cannot be enforce by law, sanctions and war (although these are require at times). Starting from myself, the discovery of this common connection must start from a \realization that the person next to me shares the sane want for happiness, a shared need for love and compassion and freedom from pain and needless suffering. I will leave you with a quote from the Dalai Lana, who remains an important influence on my life. it should leave you with plenty of food for thought to last a lifetime:

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion;
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (1935- )

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beware the Foreigner...

I am very concerned by developments taking place in Europe. While we are encouraged to celebrate diversity in all its forms and promote the ideals of solidarity and mutual respect, 'political' groups that promote hate and suspicion against particular groups are growing in popular support across the European Union. Most of these groups are, of course, far-right parties which present themselves as protectors of national values, identity and culture. At face value, these are not unworthy goals in themselves but then again, a belief that your 'national identity, values and culture' are the only ones that are valid, or they are in any way 'superior' to other identities, values or cultures, ignores that all the world is, if not by anything else, by our humanity. Even if if we are more sincere, there is so much more that we share in common that we might wish to admit. 

I cannot deny that the fact that being disabled has made me aware of the many misconceptions people had of me and which, I'm sometimes painfully reminded today. Thus, I tend to reject statements made about particular groups that portray them as a uniform group that are a threat to social stability, order and things ranging from jobs to traditions. 

Locally, the implicit message is that African refugees risk 'invading our country, Muslim people will 'take over our values'. gay people are 'corrupting our morality', etc. And what about disabled people? We are better off than ten years ago but there is still sub;e prejudice that would make some people have locked up in an institution or, as some have suggested , kill us off before we are born. An increasingly accepted practice in many parts of the world, based on the idea that this is 'for our own good' - of course! But this is a topic that deserves a post in its own right…

Here, I only wish to illustrate that there is a certain inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, between what some of us claim to believe in and how we actually act when we are faced with reality. For most of us, it is easy to pledge support to diversity but when we are asked to practice solidarity, it's a sad reality that we bring up excuses like 'national interest' to justify turning human lives into chess pieces or to merely as ends in our political agendas.

That is perhaps why I don't describe myself as a patriot. For from my reading of history, I learned that any patriotism or nationalism has the risk of putting the country and allegedly its values, has contradicted its very own values and resulting in great loss of life and suffering to groups of people that are construed to be a threat or an evil to the 'good society'. And when economic recession, unemployment, increase in crime and a general decrease of life quality occur, it is far easier to put the blame on a scapegoat group and talk about the myth of national purity. Ignoring the great contribution that the diverse groups and individuals in society have given us and others who may still give us. It has happened under Hitler, Stalin; it has happened in Kosovo, Rwanda and Armenia. There is no guarantee that it will not happen today again in Europe. However, this is up to how much we persist in believing that what we believe in is the only way of being human.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

No More the Fool

I've got a confession to make. I'm not as smart as I thought. Over these years, I still hoped that my physical and sensory impairments don't matter that much and that, one day, I will be treated as a full person. That I'll be free from prejudice that creeps up when I was sure people "got it".

Yet, and I don't want to name anyone, to far and close people, the misconceived ideas about who I am and what I should aspire to are thwarted and even insulting. And even if you think that getting an education, work or study, you are still robbed of dignity when you get in touch with people. And it's sad but true that it's not just strangers I'm talking about.

Then, I become disable in its true sense. My aims in life should be to walk again. I work to get out of the house. I have all the rights and responsibilities of an adult, and yet, I an sometimes treated like a child. Y writing is another form of therapy. My resistance to stereotypes is just denial. The story of my life interpreted as a medical drama or a charity case.

Here's the paradox. I want to do the things I'm doing. I know I can never conform. At the same time, I cannot shut out reality. And in either case, I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. Even if I get the awkward questions, the presumption that you strive to be "normal", and are forced to ignore the names you are given and you never chose. Even if you suddenly realise your real ambitious if futile. Even so, it's worth striving for.

Unfortunate as it may be, prejudice and discrimination will remain. In spite of all the efforts made by other groups, such as the women's movement and the black civil rights movement, women and black people are still discriminated. Despite the war against far right extremism during WWII, far right extremism is once again gaining momentum.

Where does this leave me? I guess that my choice would be to move on. In order to move on, however, it's important to take what people tell you with a pinch of low sodium salt. And that applies for both the flattery and implicit insults.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Libya: a chance for change

This is just a short followup to yesterday's post but nonetheless, a significant one for Libya as The United Nations Security Council has voted in favour of a no-fly zone in Libya and has authorised member states to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians there. . While this might force the UN to take action in case Gaddafi decides to infringe it, this decision should give Gaddafi's regime a clear message while providing the Libyan people a chance for the future.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our Future, Libya and Japan

The top news stories this week have been dominated by the Libyan crisis and the lingering nuclear threat that has struck Japan on top of the natural disaster that, on its own, resulted in many people dead and destitute.
The events happening in Libya and Japan cannot be more different from one another. The people of Libya have taken the courageous decision to rise up against the oppressive rule of one man and his regime - Gaddafi.  Unfortunately, as I write this, Gaddafi is using his Western-sponsored weaponry against his own people. 
However, so far, the West is still undecided on what action to take. In the meantime, people continue being killed while the possibility of a massacre increases. Can we afford to wash our responsibility and hope things calm down just like that?
In the East, Japan is facing an equally concerning situation. Not only Japan has to recover from damage caused by the earthquake  and tsunami, but nuclear power plants have been damaged. It's still unclear what the long term effects of radioactivity will be. However, the example of the Chernobyl indicates that it doesn't look good at all for the health of the population, especially those in the vicinity of the power plants.
At this point, it would be easy for me to say that it was a wrong decision for an island nation with a history of earthquakes to have even considered building nuclear plants but it's also true that lacking natural sources of energy, nuclear would seem a good option. The only problem is that nuclear energy is only safe if it remains contained and controlled. Otherwise, it's a dark master.
It always renews my faith in humanity when I hear that countries from around the world are helping out Japan. The same thing cannot be said of the Libyan crisis. While there remains a lot of uncertainty about the fate of both Libya and Japan, what is certain that whatever the outcome, our decisions today will determine the history of the world for years to come. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's a bed thing

Since the new year, it is more difficult to wake up from bed without a struggle. The moment I open my eyes and sense the cold air in my room, the temptation to burrow deeper under my covers is great. I know, I know, that I can't hide under the blankets forever but it's always worth trying.

This need to immerse myself into a place of peace and warmth is stronger during the cold winter days and when I need to face another day at work. I admit that I do envy those creatures which hibernate during the winter.

Alas, I need to discard this dream. It will never happen. Unless I don't reincarnate into a tortoise or some other animal in my next life. I'm already working on growing a hard shell... so there.

No alarm goes off. I've stopped using one for some time now. Besides, I always end up waking way before it goes off - except on those rare occasions when I really cannot bring myself to consciousness.

Half an hour passes. All these thoughts have brought me to a profound realization. If I don't drink my tea, get dressed and hop on my wheelchair in 30 minutes, I risk losing my van to get me to work.

What should I do? The temptation is certainly attractive. Again, what should ( do?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The New Zonecast is Here!

ZoneCast Artwork

Earlier in January, I wrote on my podcast page, Gordon's ZoneCast, that following recent events in my life, I decided to give podcasting another try. After taking some time to sort out my current situation (which is still a work in progress) and dealing with podcast logistics which I won't bother you with, I have finalised my first episode for 2011.

While this is only an introduction to the new Zonecast, I hope you'll enjoy it. Well, what are you waiting for? Go check it out heree!

Saturday, February 05, 2011


I've been absorbed in my private life too much now. True, I'm still recoverin from a health issue that could have had far serious implications if left untreated but now things are getting better, I want to return to real life and face reality head on.

So I thought of the Magreb and the people's uprisings in Tunis and Egypt. Their realization that life couldn't go on as it was with all the injustice and corruption. They woke up from the dream or nightmare. But they weren't the only ones. In their last summit, Arab leaders realized that many living in their countries were exposed to poverty and corruption. The Western world now admitted that it might have tolerated oppressive regimes and dictators as long they cooperated with western interests.

Has the world awakened from an illusion? Where were the leaders when the people were suffering? And where was the media? And where were we while all this was happening? Where was I?

What has happened in north Africa is already having repercussions on the rest of the world, especially in what we term the 'Arab world'. But is there such a thing? And how many other realities are we avoiding to acknowledge only to discover that it's too late now. That an unstoppable chain reaction has started.

Will we wake up from a blissful dream to a tormenting nightmare?

Monday, January 17, 2011

When a Crisis Strikes

It's been a difficult time for me since I spent both Christmas and New Year at hospital. As you can imagine, this was the last place I wanted to celebrate the festive season. To make things worse, I was at risk of having my right foot's toe amputated. Which would mean that next Christmas I would be asking Santa for my big right toe. Seriously, this possibility scared me even if at times the pain was so excruciating that I was tempted to cut off that toe myself. While my foot problem is now improving and I'm back home, the healing process will be very very slow.

On top of all this, I pulled a back muscle a few days ago which has further limited my movement. If it wasn't for the support of my family, particularly my father, these times would be more difficult to bear. Indeed, this transition into greater physical dependence has humbled me somewhat because I've come to appreciate the value of having people around you who support you and actually care for you. As a person, that is!

I'm still recovering to this day. It's been almost a fortnight since I came home. Yet, both because of the effects of the antibiotic cocktail I'm having and an annoying back pain, my return to work will take longer than last time. Of course, I'm trying my best to get better even if there are times when I am tempted to give up.

Well, I will end by thanking my family and countless friends who are supporting me during these tough periods. I hope some day I can return the favour. A note to others reading this. My post isn't about personal determination or even an account along the lines of 'against all odds'. rather, it illustrates that we cannot do it alone in society but we rely on others to live. This is an account of how we are an interdependent species who would perish in isolation.

."All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual"
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)