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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

International Disabled People's Day 2013: A Few Thoughts...


Another year is almost over. just a few days left to the celebration of Christmas, and another New Year. Once again, we celebrate International Disabled People’s Day.. 

 

I admit that, in spite of being a disabled person since I was a boy, it’s only in the last ten years or so that I am comfortable with identifying myself as a “disabled person”. Indeed, for most of my life I did my best to pass on as “normal” - whatever that means. 

 


There are still so many misconceptions that exist about disabled people. Many try to try to appear politically correct or sensitive by using euphemisms such as “differently abled”, ‘challenged” or “people with special needs”.  


 

Sadly, some of us choose to adopt these terms. I know - I did take a fancy to "special needs" in my childhood. However, now that I've grown in my understanding, I realise that these apparently positive terms some people use  to define who we are also empty in meaning and can be counter-productive. But I already discussed all this  in another entry . The truth may well be that people use such words simply because they  are uncomfortable with our impairment and can't deal with it. 

 

Thus, one my hear well meaning people making the point that we should “put the person first”. Of course, that is very good. However, it shouldn’t be taken to extremes. Let me explain. Sure, we are people first, our impairments don’t define who we are. Yet, they remain part of who we are. A non-disabled person may think of the fact I’m a wheelchair user and visually impaired as some sort of tragedy. 

 

Yet, if I hadn’t become a wheelchair user or acquired a visual impairment, I probably wouldn't had met the people I met or had the experiences I had - some good or bad. The point is that while many non-disabled people seek ways to “fix” us, many of us are happy with our bodies.

 

Obviously, I am not saying that treatment for painful conditions or to prevent impairment is not sought but that we’re ready to accept disabled people for who they are. Given our bodies, judge them as you may, are our only means of reaching out to society, then yes, this includes our bodies.

 


Ignoring the fact that we have impairments, indeed, is the real cause of our disability. My impairments were never the cause of all my problems. It was often society in the way it structured society and looked at me as if I was never meant to be on this planet. 


 

My message is one. Yes, we are persons, like any other human being. Again, like anyone else, we interact with the world through our body, mind and senses. We may be physically and intellectually different but if you really want to include us as persons, you must also acknowledge our differences...

 

Our common humanity!

 

Enjoy disabled people’s day and the rest of the week!

 

PS: Be patient with non-disabled persons. They try to help but don’t always get it right ;)



Friday, July 19, 2013

Open Your Eyes: Escape from the Land of the Blind!

Picture of an Eye Wide Open

 You might have heard the saying:

 

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…”


However, as a visually impaired wheelchair user, my advice is NOT to believe everything you see or hear (if you can!). The fact, in a hypothetical land of the blind*, it’s more likely for the sighted to have a hard time in society.

Just imagine a world were everyone is blind. Who needs lights? I can only imagine how seeing would be right below on the list of the policy agenda. Technology would be tailored for the blind norm. What would be close to heaven for a blind person living today would represent hell for anyone with sight. Indeed, if nobody could see, it’s probably that blind doctors would have to diagnose sight as an impairment. Any technology that is developed to help the “sighted” would be the new “special equipment” that the mainstream of our world preferring that term to the correct one: assistive or adaptive technology.

Of course, if I had the time, I would dare write a book on my fictional blind world. I might even depict a world where sighted people are oppressed because a blind society thinks they’re defective or even crazy - for they see “visions” of physical objects and are scared by faces they cannot understand. I would be able to relate to that horror of first seeing the world after 3 years of severe blindness. The reality was so strange, faces so horrible. As my eyes were adjusting during that period, I was shocked at how the face didn’t make sense. The eyes, the nose and the other features appeared disconnected and terrifying to the extent that I had to close my eyes to rest my short-circuited neurones in my brain.

I admit that if I had no visual impairment or never lived some years in my 20s as a blind person, I would have believed that such a blind world would be an oppressive world where, as a sighted person, I would be rejected and even judged as a medical oddity and as an unstable or even holy visionary. I’m not sure whether they would attempt a cure if I was fully sighted. But perhaps they would discover that by blinding me they could “cure” my sightedness. My “seeing disorder”. Yet, while one may  feel that such a world would be an ugly and oppressive  one, the sad fact is    that our real world has done much the same thing to disabled people as this imaginary blind society would do to its few sighted people.

As we are born and doctors notice we have an impairment, our lives rarely remain totally unchanged. Unfortunately, while our impairments prevent us from doing some things or make it difficult for us to be as effective, it is society that many times excludes us.

The world created by society seldom is the same world our ancestors lived in. The very fact that we have separated ourselves from nature and the process of life would be enough to understand that while we have progressed in many things, we have also regressed in many others. We live in buildings, we have built high, we sit down for long hours and we engage in behaviours that are not to be found in nature.

Yes,we have developed language, technology and ideas to help us better relate to each other. Yet. we lost touch with nature and forgot where we all came from.


Sadly,, we have created new problems. Amongst these, the problem of disability. In our world, people with impairments are not born disabled but tend to become disabled. Diagnosed and studied or misconceived as alien to the rest of humanity, we become case studies or conflicting images of the evil or the holy. Well intentioned people around us persist in trying to make our impairments lessen and to “normalise” us - even when it’s impossible in our time. We are driven to believe there is something wrong or bad in us. We feel inferior and while we want to share our humanity with the world, we are judged as being the odd ones out.

Our impairment, which remains an important part of who we are, often hijacks all that we are about to the world. It’s this the tragedy I see xain our world.

While we would condemn the fictional blind world, we fail to recognise that we are doing much of the same by denying the difference of people who have physical, sensory and intellectual impairments and those with mental health conditions. 


The only hope for all of us to live in a better world is to recognise and celebrate our human diversity and be willing to move away from the constrains posed by our beliefs, prejudice and identities. 

In life, we are all the same fragile, dependent and mortal human beings.

This is why we should work together to make inclusion a reality for all human beings where everyone is given the equal chance and opportunity to live to the full potential. Even if, as disabled people, we may tend to focus exclusively on disability rights and equality, I sincerely believe that an inclusive world and an inclusive society is about including of all us and must be a celebration of our human diversity as we all ultimately have to face similar challenges in life.

 

* If I had to choose to call this land, I would consider to call it "Bland". On second thoughts,I don't really think that it would be such a good idea...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is Virtue Its Own Reward? Reflections on the Real Price and Value of Kindness...

 

Another school prize day… Again second in my class… Ironic perhaps?

L)) In My Own Words: Listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of a podcast episode I recorded where I talk about my experiences and how it changed the way I viewed society and the world around me for the rest of my life. 

"I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being truly included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal […] this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider."  

 

This week I have been doing some soul searching. I didn’t expect that I would react to this news as I did this time. Perhaps it’s because I’m more in touch with my thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the painful memories of a past long forgotten seemed to have come to haunt me again. I am sorry for being unclear but my thoughts and emotions are unsettled.

Let me take you back to a time when I was a boy of around 10. I was watching the local news in the evening when I heard the name of one of my best friends being mentioned. I admit that I was jealous at first. I was curious to know what had happened. I listen attentively… He was being awarded a prize for kindness… I listened more attentively now. A prize, for what? 

And then , I understand he was being rewarded for ‘helping’ his ‘poor handicapped friend’. Who? Then, it dawned on me as if I was struck by lightning. I was that boy he was ‘helping’. I was the boy described in terms of a ‘needy’ and even ‘helpless’. I felt that it seemed they were talking about another ‘crippled’ boy - not me! I felt betrayed.

At first, I was angry at my supposed ‘friend’. I was angry because I started to suspect that our friendship had been a charade. A ploy to be awarded such a prize or to look nice and popular with others. But, if I think about it, as a child himself, he really had no say in the matter. Undeniably, I did feel betrayed by my friend and while we sort of patched things up, from then on our friendship was never the same.

Why am I telling you this? The truth that this prize for kindness - also known in Maltese as “Premju tat-Tjubija” or “Premju Qalb tad-Deheb)”“ (Golden Heart Award) or “Premju Gwanni XXIII” (Pope John 23rd Award) is an initiative started off by a local NGO called the "Peace Lab”. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the values expressed by this organisation, including the promotion of peace and dialogue between people. However, I believe that the ones who cane up with the idea of awarding a so-called “Prize for Kindness” may not be aware of what impact could have on the children who are being awarded this prize and the child who is ‘being helped’.

I don’t know what my best friend went through then and what he thinks of this experience today. What I can say that it left me with a sense of betrayal and forced me to mistrust others who sought my friendship for a long time. You know it is said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. And I’m sure that my teachers and school had all the good intentions by nominating my friend. But while my friend achieved a certain prestige and recognition, I felt suddenly I was invalidated as a person. And the way the media portrayed me, again, was less than flattering. I was the taker and a burden. I knew that my friend didn’t see our friendship as a one-way thing. Yet, I was forced to question everything. Was I a ‘sacrifice’? 

Yes, it took years before I can say that I regained some trust. However, in spite of the terrible things they said about me. Defining me only in terms of my physical impairment. As if that was my problem. My curse. I have adapted to it didn’t I? Why do you need to deny that my body is part of who I am? Instead, you rob me of any claims to my individual identity. And so, deny my humanity. I know that these are hard words to write. But I can’t shout them out loud because I would gain nothing. For, even if we hate to admit it, such prizes only reinforce our social inequalities not just as disabled people but as human beings. We have to reward a friendship because we still perceive a disabled child to be always ‘less fortunate’. He or she is always taking. As if our friendship wasn’t based on mutual respect and understanding. As if we didn’t share our childhood together.

I want to be part of society. However, society must recognise my difference. Unfortunately, in spite of any rhetoric promoting inclusion, those who hold themselves to be the ‘norm’ persist in creating barriers that prevent us from being included. Our society , still silently, believes that the non-disabled, Maltese, Caucasian and straight man is the ideal. I am sorry to have to say all this but I can’t help feeling that this prize has reminded me that I am, and it seems, I will remain the ‘other’. For, even now, what I write may be interpreted to be the angry voice of that young boy who thought he was just like any other boy to discover that he must remain always an outsider. 

Today, I understand that we are all co-dependent. We all need each other in today’s world. By pretending to be doing charity by simply sending money where, granted, it is needed will not solve the problems of poverty, lack of access, food shortage and the many problems that we all must share responsibility for. Awarding a prize for kindness will always mean that one is, in some way, inferior to another. And, worse, the fact that you’re telling children that a friendship between a disabled and a non-disabled friend is an act of kindness is telling them that such a friendship is a sacrifice where one party is always the less important - the less of value. Have we become so desperate for kindness that we need to reward even ordinary friendships by painting them using our own narratives of heroes and courage? 

Now, my last thoughts. I know that I have used strong language here. But, honestly, I don’t want other children to go through my experience. Yes, I have learned from it as well. Yet, I believe it is diametrically opposed to the principles of inclusion I believe in. A prize for ‘kindness’ is also a misunderstanding of charity. Charity requires us to practice compassion where we help others not out of pity and because we think we are better than them. Compassion and charity are about being with another human being and looking at him or her as your equal. It’s not and should never be a power relationship.

 And what about the idea of rewarding kindness?

“Virtue is its own reward”!

At least, it should be!

 

Related Entries:

Painful Memories of a Prize for Kindness 

> from: Gordon's D-Zone

The True Meaning of Charity

> from: ZoneMind 

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Goals of Inclusive Education (Newspaper Article)


My first day at school







Top: A photo of me on my first day at school...

Do you agree that disabled children should be included in mainstream schools? My guess is that many of you have answered “yes” to that question.

Of course, this is a good thing. It indicates that attitudes towards disabled people have changed since the time when a majority of disabled people were provided education in ‘special’ schools. Yet, do we really understand what ‘inclusive education’ actually means?


A common misconception about inclusive education is that it’s simply a matter of placing a disabled child in a mainstream class. However, while this may enable a few disabled children to get a proper education and develop the skills to function in an adult world, it expects the disabled child to fit in the educational system without taking into account the fact that the child has an impairment. In contrast, inclusion sets out to place the student at the centre of the educational process and thus enable children to attain their maximum educational potential.

As a young disabled boy attending a mainstream Church school, I felt part of the school. While I’m grateful for the teachers and staff who supported me during that time, things would have been different if it wasn’t for the fact that I could keep up with my peers, wasn’t disruptive to the class and my physical impairment permitted me to be more physically active than I am today.

On the other hand, if I had a more severe physical impairment, a profound intellectual impairment or exhibited challenging behaviour, I would have probably been sent off to a special school or denied an education to begin with. n my case, I survived an education based on the principle of integration where it was a matter of sink or swim. If I hadn’t adapted to the system, my future would have been very different.

On the contrary, a truly inclusive educational system would have taken my impairment into account and made it possible for me to be more included in school events that required, say, physical stamina and strength.
In this sense, inclusion is about providing a disabled student with the support he or she needs depending on the impairment. This may range from making sure the school is physically accessible, providing educational resources in alternative formats and supporting the student with a Learning Support Assistant – as well as providing adequate professional involvement if required.

Inclusive education is planning an education that responds to the child’s needs through the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which also involves the child.
Indeed, real inclusion requires that we rethink our approach to education and go beyond the old idea that education is simply a way to prepare children for the world of work.
While preparing our children to contribute to our society through work remains an important function of education, what we gain from the educational process is much greater than that.
We learn to make friends, learn about new people, solve problems and form relationships.

Indeed, education helps us to explore life beyond the confines of our family circle. As a disabled child myself, school helped me meet people whom I might never have met as my impairment often placed limits on how far from home I could go before I got tired.

Indeed, the goal of inclusion is also to provide children with an opportunity to learn about other children and how to live in a society where everyone is different. It provides an opportunity for disabled and non-disabled children to learn about each other and become aware of the fact that while there are differences, they have much in common.

Finally, inclusion helps reduce fear and stigma that existed in the past. It also helps all of us to become aware of our diversity and to appreciate the value of every human being and their right to belong in society.

Unfortunately, as adults, we tend to prefer to include those disabled children who are more easily included or when the support required is minimal, and exclude other disabled children who may need more support and who challenge us when it comes to their inclusion.
Unfortunately, one finds that children who may have a severe intellectual impairment or complex dependency needs and those with severe challenging behaviour are often left out when we discuss the issue of inclusion. These children remain the most excluded groups of children from mainstream education.

Granted, some of these children pose unique challenges when it comes to their inclusion. However, if a proper Individual Education Plan (IEP) is designed, proper support could be identified. And giving the child the right support in daily life can do a lot in addressing the particular challenges encountered. One cannot assume that just because a child appears to be getting nothing from the mainstream, s/he is a waste of time and resources.

In addition, proper inclusive educational planning engages with the child as a whole person, involving a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying the child’s needs and aspirations. In no way does inclusion expect teachers to provide an inclusive education on their own.

Rather, it encourages all the school staff to adopt an attitude based on inclusion, where every child is valued.
Inclusive education must be seen both as a project and as a process. While legislation offers us the direction to follow, inclusion is a process that society needs to support.

Indeed, a proper inclusive education can only be successful if there is investment that improves schools’ access to the environment, educational resources and flexibility.
Inclusion also invites us to rethink our approach to education from one focused exclusively on academic achievement to one that fosters social values.

However, crucial to the success of inclusion is the willingness of all key stakeholders to cooperate together in the realisation of inclusive education.

As a disabled adult, I firmly believe this is the only way forward!

This article originally appeared on the Tuesday 22 edition of The Times of Malta newspaper. Full reference above.

REFERENCE
Cardona, G. C. (21/5/2013) “Goals of Inclusive Education”, The Times of Malta. Allied Publications: Malta. Also available at: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130521/opinion/Goals-of-inclusive-education.470587(Accessed: 23 May, 2013)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Scribblings of a Disabled Worker at the End of Worker's Day

The day celebrated as Worker’s Day (May 1) in this part of the world is coming to an end already. I find that I am now rested as I took it easy today. I needed to rest and this week was more intense than usual and the next two days promise to be as intense as the last two. Thus, I am enjoying the free hours I have left. I admit that I don’t always rest when I should do and while many may go home and forget about their job, the nature of my work as a disabled activist who works to raise awareness and educate people about disability issues can never really stop - even when I’m home. You see, I can't just hang my impairments on the coat hangar!

While I realise that my work in research, writing and activism is part of what I do today, I have long ceased to define myself by what I do - in spite of the positive value this work has to me. Unfortunately, I tended to self-identify with my work because I knew that having a job as a disabled person in a society where employment has become so precious for the general population and still so difficult for disabled people, I cannot take my job for granted or treat it capriciously or carelessly.

On the other hand, today I believe that while my work is part of what I do it does[t define who I am as a person. After all, I am a human being - and contrary to popular misconceptions, work is not another thing to ‘occupy my time’ but, in many times, a responsibility that provides purpose in my life and, in practical terms, provides me with a degree of financial autonomy.

Indeed, it’s insulting when people seem to suggest that work is good for me because it provides me a kind of 'therapy' much better than sitting In front of the TV getting fat - a thing that I was never tempted in doing. Of course, I enjoy it when I work at the office and meet my work mates and new people. But the fact I have an impairment doesn’t mean that this is the be it and end all of my work at the office. I work to contribute to the betterment of society and, hopefully, to make the world more inclusive to people with impairments , like me, who have been excluded from work because work was designed to exclude them.

Here, I will not talk about the reasons why the very organisation of work before the rise of the information society has been oppressive to disabled people and other groups in society, such as women. Suffice it to say, there has been greater efforts to create more inclusive work places with provisions which I’m benefiting from myself such as tele-working, flexible working hours and accessibility in the workplaces. Granted, there’s still much to be done and many still find themselves excluded from the open labour market - despite the fact that with some support and adaptation, many more disabled people (for instance)could be included.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to assume that all disabled people can be easily included in the open labour market, if at all. However, this doesn’t mean that they cannot contribute in a way to their society and perform work that could help them become more financially independent, or equally important, have an opportunity to contribute to society and develop a sense of worth not because they work as such but because they feel they are of value to those around them.

Unfortunately, we continue to perceive work using the old paradigm. Indeed, I firmly believe that our definition of work continues to oppress and exclude people who are engaged in unconventional work that is not necessarily performed within the open labour market. Especially when such work doesn't result in a material product but can, all the same, positively contribute to the world and to society. Indeed, much of what we understand as work in our information society doesn't always result in a material or concrete object. Information, services and work related to human relations don't seem to fit in any of the old definition of work.

I am myself benefitting from the legacy of the information revolution if I may use that term. In fact, if it wasn't for the invention of the computer, the Internet and the assistive technology that I'm currently using, work or any means of social; engagement beyond face-to-face or via telephone would be impossible. Not only would I be limited in the work I could do but my social life would be indeed limited.

However, I cannot forget the many disabled people around the world who have no access to any technology or even the basic resources to enjoy a decent level of living. I find it that we who live in the minority world appear to conveniently think of these people as being 'less fortunate' instead of acknowledging that much of this povertyy is caused by injustice and by the exploitation of the minority world or the Western world of other nationss.

I end this entry as I'm getting tired and tomorrow promises to be another busy day. I wish that you had a good day and that anyone who has contributed to the improvement of the world - even if it goes unrecognised - I hope you persist in your work and containue changing the world for the better!

Monday, April 08, 2013

My Special, Differently-Abled Challenged Sort of Life...

Call me a disabled person...

I’ve been called many things in my life when people wanted to refer to the fact I had a physical impairment, way long before I acquired my visual impairment.

I admit that I was ready to accept being called a “person with special needs” and preferred to refer to myself, if the situation required that I mention my impairment, as “physically challenged”. I found a little problem with having to talk of my physical impairment as a boy and I tried my best to pass off as ‘physically normal’.

Back then, I would not have imagined that I would come to describe myself as a 'disabled person' - a phrase I detested with a vengeance when I was much younger. But, yes, if you asked me today, I would tell you that I prefer to refer to myself as a “disabled person”. However, more on that later…

Misleading Euphemistic Phrases…

Of course, disabled people have been described in very derogatory terms ranging from “cripple”, “retarded”, “deformed”, “defective”, “wheelchair-bound”, “deaf and dumb”, “mental” and so on and on. These labels may be given to disabled people in general or to particular impairment groups. However, they all invalidate our worth as human beings which reminds me that “invalid” is also the term that captures what is meant when they call us by all those names.

But why haven’t I included the term “disabled person”? Yes, I use it today but it's not a term that some disabled people would want to identify with. The main reason is that both the general public and a number of disabled people misinterpret the term as meaning “lacking in ability”. And, yes, that interpretation is rather similar to calling us “invalids”. Yet, as I will explain later, this is not what disabled people who formed the first movements composed primarily by referring themselves as “disabled people”. But, be a bit more patient for first I must reveal my top three terms that I dislike being referred to today since choosing to refer to myself as a 'disabled person'..

Differently-Abled. Who me?

I’ve heard the media using this to describe disabled people and even some disabled people themselves to describe themselves. I suspect it’s a term that is meant to replace the term “disabled”. Yet, on close examination is meaningless and is really a term that can be applied to the whole of humankind.

For aren’t we all, disabled and non-disabledpeople, ‘differently abled’ in our own ways? For not everyone knows how to write a book, how to fix a car or how to  sing, for example. There is no such thing as a “normal ability”.

In fact, whether one has a skill or ability depends on many factors, including the person’s own likes and dislikes, social and family background and life circumstances, including whether one has an impairment..

To claim one is differently abled is like saying I’m a human being or stating the obvious. Ability is most often a matter of opportunity and everyone in this world is, in fact, 'differently abled' if you think about it and as disabled people, I don't think we have any special privilege to make use of a phrase that really isn't saying that much but, in my view, actually emphasising our differences as if they were very different than that of others.

Explain to me exactly what are my ‘special needs’?

This takes me to the second term, I confess, I did accept as young boy. Today, I realise how this term is oppressive because it appears to imply that we are, in some way, an alien people. Not in the sense employed in immigration law but in the sense that we're somewhat 'out of this world' and that we are somewhat an alien species.

But, when I ask people, what exactly are my special needs? They often mention two things. First, my wheelchair. Second, is the lift. Delighted that they believe they answered correctly, their faces beam expecting me to accept their brilliant answers. But, I point out that they're wrong because  the wheelchair and the lift are means to fulfil my needs, they aren’t needs themselves. 

Indeed, my needs are exactly the same as any other person. I need to move around or to be mobile, so I use a wheelchair to realise that need. I need vertical access to buildings higher than one floor.

And, yes, if tomorrow new technology was invented that made either the wheelchair or lift redundant, I would use it if it was better than the existent technology. Butt no, I’m not bound by my wheelchair! In fact, it permits me to go places I would have never been able to go… It gives me the independence and mobility other people have! 

I’m challenged… You must be joking!

Another phrase that, at first, appears to be nice and politically correct is when disabled people, depending on their impairments become ‘challenged’. I was physically challenged and then became visually challenged. So, now I’m both visually and physically challenged. Am I brave or not? Of course, I’m being sarcastic here. Yet, I was more ready to accept being regarded as ‘challenged’ rather than ‘disabled’.

However, the problem with describing myself as 'visually and physically challenged' is that, this follows a medical model view of disability by implying that the problems I have in my daily life are simply due to my impairments.

In this sense, my impairments are the ‘challenges’ I must face on my own. It can give the impression that disabled people are exceptional people if they are able to overcome their ‘challenges’. Yet, those who may need extra support or do not 'succeed' in the eyes of society are often cast of as 'lazy' or 'pathetic' and, worse still, told off for not being to achieve like those disabled people who are deemed to have 'overcome their challenge'.  

Yet, if I accept that, say, I’m physically challenged, I am accepting the fact that my impairment is a personal problem and it’s up to me alone to get over such a ‘challenge’. It’s assumed that it’s my destiny, fate I must deal with and a burden I must bear. And yet, is impairment really the great ‘challenge’ I have to face alone? Is it my and only my problem?

Yes, I am a disabled person…

The problems with all the misguided attempts at political correctness is that they start off by assuming that the problems we face as people with impairments are simply  related to the fact we have an impairment.

 

'Differently-abled' attempts to present us in apparently more tolerable terms or close to 'normal' but the label 'differently-abled', when examined, is without real meaning. The second term, 'special needs' attempts to present us using   flattering language like ‘special’ when it calling us 'special'

 is actually reinforcing the ideas that we are not fully human or that we are very different than other people to the extent that our needs are 'special'. The last term which describes us as somewhat 'challenged''  is defining us using  the same idea of a medical  model view of disability which roots all our problems in the fact we have impairments using nicer language.

Indeed, all the three euphemisms appear to be a reaction to the term ;disabled person' as this term is assumed to be negative and oppressive. However, I choose to define myself as a 'disabled person' because I came to understand what it really meant and that, in fact, it's a positive and liberating self-definition.  

Why am I a disabled person?

If I thought that calling myself a disabled person is negative and belittling, I would not use it. If I thought that it implied I lacked in ability, I would not use it.

Yet, when disabled people in the early 1960s came together for the first time in history, they redefined the meaning of disability. Indeed, while they recognised impairment as lack of functional ability, they observed that it was not the main barrier that was preventing them from being included and to be active participants in their society.

The early movements of disabled  people rooted the problems faced by people with impairments in the way society itself was structured and organised in such a way as to take “little or no account people with impairments’.

Nothing about us without us!

When I discovered the social model of disability,  I realised that the problem wasn’t only  my personal problem any more but something largely imposed on me by society on top of my impairments.

 Thus, by affirming I am disabled is a political statement by which I am affirming that impairment has little or no part to play when I am excluded but, rather, it’s the structural and attitudinal barriers that prevent me from benefitting from my human rights.

That is why, readers, please call me a disabled person.

And, no, I’m not one of ‘the disabled’ but part of an international community of ‘disabled persons’. We may share in our experience of disability, but we are also unique and different in our own ways but we’re not a uniform and a homogenous bunch of people.  

Indeed, our goal as disabled people is to break down the disabling barriers that still exist around the world. And to emphasise the fact that we want to be full part of our world and societies. Affirming that we are disabled is an affirmation that our disability is not due to the fact we have an impairment but a proclamation that  we believe our societies have failed us and it should change in a way as to take us into account as whole human beings.,

We want to be actively included in all areas of society and we want to be involved in matters that concern us. And that means that we are part of society and not remain left apart from it. The motto adopted by the international disabled movement says it best:  

Nothing about us, without us!


Note: This entry was last edited on April 10, 2013.


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Inclusive World We Want for 2015

OPENING

It’s important that the move towards creating an inclusive world is inclusive of disabled people from the start. While there may be action that is particular to people who have a specific impairment, the overall objective underpinning an inclusive world should be mainstreaming and not segregated services.

Besides, such segregated provision is often required due to the fact that our societies don't take us, people with impairments, into account. Departing from an approach that disabled people have any "special needs" would be denying the fact that our needs are not different than the rest of the population. It's only in the way we fulfil those same needs that there may be differences.

The  structural and attitudinal barriers disabled people face on a daily basis can affect every person throughout the course of his/her life making this issue a matter of human rights and not an issue of 'minority rights'..

Thus, disability is an issue that affects us all - whether we are non-disabled or disabled people. Indeed, considering that people are living longer in the minority world*, it makes sense to create a world that is already inclusive and accessible to a wide variety of people who have different impairments.

At the same time, we cannot forget that each priority field identified in the questionnaire created for the World We Want initiative depends on the realisation of the other priority areas identified. For example, if our environment continues to deteriorate at the current rate, the other priorities will become unsustainable and even unrealisable. 

The environment is key to sustaining the world for all of us, irrespective of our impairments. Our relationship between us, as human beings, and the environment is one of co-dependence. . 

PRESERVING THE ENVIRONMENT

Having said that, for the purposes of this discussion, it must be acknowledged that this concern with the issue of the environment is an issue that is the focus of other United Nations agencies. All the same, as disabled people, the implications of, say, deforestation and pollution are more likely to have more serious impact on one’s quality of life and we have already witnessed what impact an environmental disaster could have on populations already deprived from access to essential facilities..

Moreover, the urgency of environmental concerns tend to be more pronounced in many parts of the majority world*, Therefore, the issue of the environment as represented by the priorities below are top priorities if we want to have a good quality of life in the entire world as disabled and non-disabled people:

Environmental Concerns

• Action taken on climate change

• Protecting forests, rivers and oceans

It's a reality that the demand on energy is bound to continue increasing in the whole world. Be it by the increased reliance on energy that has existed for decades and the ever-growing need of energy in the majority world. It's unfair to expect that countries in the majority world to forfeit their entitlement to more energy .

The whole global community should work together to address our common environmental concerns - which should also be our concern as disabled people.

Apart from the fact that energy depending on fossil fuels won't last forever, the use of this type of energy is damaging our environment and resulting in climate change. If a strategy to invest in sources of renewable energy is not undertaken soon, the world population will have to face a serious environmental crisis the may prove to be irreversible.

SUSTAINING HEALTHY LIVING

Like any other person, we are born in a society as individuals. The services offered by hospitals and medical staff are important as they help us in ensuring that we remain healthy and maintain a good quality of health and help us in situations involving injury or disease. This is why access to health services and facilities remain essential in ensuring we have a chance to live a healthier life as disabled people.

Having said that, this doesn't mean that disabled people are in some way "sick". Indeed, while there is a place for treatment and rehabilitation intervention, such intervention should be aimed at maximising the person's potential but not at the expense of the person's other aspects of life, including his/her education or social life. Moreover, in any measure that will involve medical intervention, disabled people must be given information in a format they can understand and be free to take an informed decision.

In addition, medical information should be provided in accessible formats so that both disabled people and family members have access to information in a format they can access and understand. It's also important that medical services are provided in physically accessible premises and that people requiring the services of a sign language interpreter have access to such services.

It's of utmost importance that doctors and people involved in health care are provided with Disability Equality Training (DET) as part of their education to ensure that they are able to move away from assumptions that   living with impairment should lead to a poor quality of life and is a personal tragedy.

Health care professionals should also make it a point to keep up to date with developments that could help improve on the general well-being of disabled people in their care. However, it's important that the disabled person remains involved in the decision process and such intervention should be decided upon by considering the implications of such intervention on the disabled person's quality of life.


One must also make sure. that disabled people and their families have adequate access to clean water and proper nutrition since these are still problems in parts of the majority world and it's not excluded that they might become an issue in the minority world as all in the coming future, thus the following concerns must be addressed:

Healthy Living Priorities

• Affordable and nutritious food

• Access to clean water and sanitation

• Better healthcare

RELIABLE AND INCLUSIVE INFRASTRUCTURE

In order for disabled people and their families to be truly included in their communities, they must also be supported and connected to those around them. Thus, they should have equal access to the proper tools and resources to be able to enjoy a decent standard of living. In the importance of having a reliable source of energy and the proper infrastructure to allow communication to the outside world are crucial today in ensuring that disabled people have a good standard of living.

Indeed, if you consider the potential of the Internet in enhancing the life of disabled people to access sources of information, education and means of social interaction, one cannot underestimate the real value of Information &Communication Technology (ICT) to improve on disabled people's quality of life in the context of a connected world. , Thus,

it is of fundamental importance that mainstream sources of knowledge and information, especially the Internet should adhere to international web access standards to allow disabled people using any assistive technology to access the Internet to do so on an equal basis with others.

Having said that, this doesn't diminish the importance of creating an environment that is accessible to all. While it's good that buildings and public places are accessible to everyone, irrespective of impairment,

Even if Information & Communication Technology (ICT) has the potential to improve on our quality of life and opportunities as disabled people, ICT shouldn't be regarded as a replacement for our inclusion in society or that now we have ICT, accessibility to the outside is not a priority for disabled people any longer. Rather, ICT should be seen as complementing our full inclusion in society.

Thus, it's equally important that roads and transport systems are also accessible to all, especially people with mobility impairments. Let's not forget that public transport may be the only option open to disabled people living in the majority world.

Infrastructure Issues

• Reliable energy at home

• Phone and internet access

• Better transport and roads

EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT

The areas of education and employment are inter-related. Thus, the importance of providing an education that is truly inclusive by putting the disabled child at the centre of the educational process cannot be emphasised enough. This means that inclusion should be a priority inn education at all levels of planning - ranging from the physical accessibility of the educational environment (including the area where formal education is provided to the areas staff and students gather together in a less formal setting.

In practical terms, this involves considering the child's strengths and weaknesses and factoring in the child's impairment inn their educational plan. Thus, inclusive educational planning should involve all stakeholders to ensure that the child is given the necessary support and guidance to access a good education. One must also stress the importance of planning the student's education with the involvement of the child him/herself when developing such a plan. For education to be truly inclusive, the child's particular fears and aspirations should be considered - as well as the impairment.Thus, educational provision might require providing information in an accessible format and may even involve modifying the syllabus in case of children with intellectual impairments so that they can learn in their own time with the other children.

The purpose of inclusive education shouldn't  primarily focus on educational attainment but, more importantly,  on the development of the personal and social skills of the child.

One must also consider the language of instruction because some disabled people who use sign language may find themselves disadvantaged in a classroom where the teaching is meant for hearing students. In such circumstances, educational authorities should consult with organisations of the Deaf and parents to decide on the best interests of the child and with the child's involvement in such an important decision. However, the purpose of inclusive education remains to foster a culture of inclusion where disabled and non-disabled children learn about each other and understand they can co-exist with one another.

Ensuring disabled people have proper access to education improves on their prospects of finding good employment opportunities. On the other hand, one must not forget that if workplaces are inaccessible or employers are unwilling to consider a disabled applicant, disabled people may still find it difficult securing a good job.

In addition, one must keep in mind that not all disabled people can access the open labour market and they should be supported to earn a living through other forms of work, such as self-employment. Having said that, it might be appropriate to explore whether disabled people can't work because they had no access to a proper education or training opportunities. One must also consider that as some individuals might acquire an impairment during their working life, its in the public's interest that there are opportunities for training and retraining for all.

However, if the nature of the person's impairment prevents them from doing any conventional work, they should be assisted to live as independently as possible and supported to contribute to their communities in a meaningful ways if possible. On the other hand, disabled people who are unable to work shouldn't be forced to work or have their basic benefits reduced.

 

Creating Inclusive Education and Employment Environments

• A good education

• Better job opportunities

• Support for people who can’t work

PERSONAL FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS

Last, but not least, an inclusive world shouldn’t limit our rights and opportunities as disabled people to traditional areas such as that of health, education or employment. Indeed, we should be actively included and involved in public consultations in decisions that affect our countries. In this sense, an inclusive society should ensure we have an equal representation in discussions and in matters concerning public policy development and implementation. Indeed, if we are to be truly included in public affairs our civil freedoms and liberties must be respected and safeguarded since without them, we risk being disadvantaged when it comes to cleaning our rights and expressing our opinions.


Thus, it's imperative that, as disabled men and disabled women, weare treated equally as any other citizen.

Equal treatment doesn't imply that we are treated in the same way because in order for us to be truly equal, the structures that disable us in society need to take us into account.

The legal system should also ensure that we can live our lives without fearing to be victims of violence, discrimination or abuse on the basis of our impairments. It's also important that those disabled people whom choose to participate more actively in politics are provided with the necessary support and assistance to participate in politics.

Whilst it's good to see more disabled people represented in politics, the electoral system should allow every disabled people to vote without fearing discrimination or injustice and the voting system should also be accessible to all, especially those who cannot vote independently or in secret, like myself. Other alternatives, including technological solutions should be considered to make voting accessible to all.

Having said that, in order to ensure that the civil and political rights of disabled people are respected it is fundamental that the government acknowledges the equal rights of disabled people and takes concrete action to implement these principles in its own structures and in the provision of public services. Governments should also ensure that the judicial system allows disabled people adequate support and protection in cases of abuse or discrimination on the basis of impairment.

In implementing the principles of inclusion,  governments should also set an example by, for example, factoring in  accessibility and practicing inclusion within its own structures and involving disabled people and their organisations on boards and committees. Thus, these are key areas to consider:

Personal, Political and Civil Liberties

• Protection against crime and violence

• Equality between men and women

• Freedom from discrimination and persecution

• An honest and responsive government

CONCLUSION

The fact that I chose to put the environment, on the top areas of priority, followed by health, education and employment, infrastructure and personal freedom, does in no way indicate that the last priority areas identified are of less importance. Rather, my intention is to highlight the overarching importance of a sustainable environment to guarantee our access to the other areas of society. for disabled and non-disabled people alike..

I also want to clarify that even in Malta, my home country, disabled people have achieved a lot in terms of equal rights even before Malta ratified the UN Convention in 2012. Disabled children have been included in our educational system through our inclusive educational policies, disabled people are also assisted to become engaged in work through various schemes and we are also included in boards and committees aimed at developing national policy. Our comprehensive Equal Opportunities Persons with Disabilities Act (Cap 413) has helped many of us progress in terms of equal rights and opportunities.

I'm not saying that there's no more to be done for disabled people to say that we are fully  included in our society. However, it must be said that we have achieved a lot already and we need to work together to achieve our objective of creating a truly inclusive society. Thankfully, political parties in Malta so far have supported the principles of inclusion in every area of national policy. However, there's still a strong need for disabled and non-disabled people to continue working together to create an inclusive society and an inclusive world.

An inclusive world is, after all, a world that is inclusive of everyone! 

* In this contribution, I have used the terms "majority world" to refer to the parts of the world were the largest number of the human population lives and "minority world" where the rest of the population lives. I refrained from using the terms "developing" and "developed" countriessince these terms are biased towards Western ideas of development.

LAST WORDS

I thank the United Nations of giving us the opportunity to participate on this online forum. I hope that you find this feedback useful in the important work to make an inclusive world a reality.

Regards,
Gordon C. Cardona
rep. Maltese Council of Disabled People (MCoDP)
(affiliated with DPI)

 

 

Selected Readings

LINK Latest Reports on Malta and disabled people compiled by the European Network of

EuropeanDisability experts (ANED)

PDF Inclusive Education: A Special Right?
An article discussing athe right we have to an education within the mainstream appearing on a Commonwealth Education Publication.

PDF The Politics of Exclusion
An article which was originally published on an edition of "A Different View", a publication issued by the International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS) of August 2006. The article featured on pages 5 - 6 of the publication which can be downloaded from here.

LINK Overcoming Disabling Barriers
This article explores the way a number of disabled people and a parent of a disabled child living in Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean, look at their daily experiences of disability and talk about what changes they would like to see in Maltese society for them to feel more equal and included.

blog GORDON'S D-ZONE
A blog about my life from my point of view as a disabled person can be found at Gordon's D-Zonewhere readers may find a variety of posts related to disability, including newspaper articles, letters, personal accounts and more light hearted posts.

About This Article

World We Want Logo
This was a contribution to the Online Discussion happening at the United Nations to discuss how to make the world a more inclusive world happening at: World We Want 2015. I encourage disabled people and allies to join in the discussions while you're still in time!

Disclaimer

While I'm submitting this on behalf of MCoDP, the opinions expressed here don't necessarily reflect the views of all members.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dumbification: Why Dumbo Isn’t My Role Model!



Jumbo or Dumbo - the flying elephant created by Disney StudiosI don’t know why, at the beginning of Spring., I thought of writing an entry on the ‘flying elephant’ Jumbo Junior, ironically known more by the nickname Disney ascribed to him, Dumbo. I am not sure if it’s because after I do my work from home, I do find myself meditating on my past. And, there, in my mind comes fleeting images of Dumbo. My visual memory still works a little bit… Anyhow, Dumbo came to mind. True, I am contributing to the UN online forum to discuss how the world can become more inclusive at World We Want 2015 but Dumbo has hardly anything to do with disability and inclusion, does it?


Well, the Disney production of Dumbo was one which left me a little uneasy as a physically disabled boy who knew he walked differently but vociferously deny he was really disabled - even preferring to be called a ‘person with special needs’ in his early teens. However, Dumbo appeared to be delivering messages that I may have internalised as a boy who would go through great lengths to hide his impairment. In this entry I will list some of the messages and the lessons I might have internalised as a child.


Today, as I grew more aware of the fact that it’s society that often creates disabled barriers for us, I suspect that I put on a sardonic look when I hear a well meaning teacher before I deliver a discussion on why inclusion is important, ask them if they ever watched Dumbo. And commending it for its “message of inclusion and acceptance”. Because, frankly, it’s sending the opposite message!
And here is why...

1. The Life of Jumbo Junior

Before being given the demeaning nickname of “Dumbo because of his exceptionally long ears, his ‘birth name’ was Jumbo Junior. Dumbo was a nickname aimed to mock him and ridicule his physical difference.

Lesson 1: If you’re different, accept to be humiliated and disrespected.
2. Prepare to be a clown

Jumbo Juniors long ears led him to become literally, the circus clown, as he tripped inn his long ears when taking part in an elephant act bringing the big top and injuring the other elephants.

Lesson 2: To include people who are different in your group is a recipe for disaster, leading only to social disorder and anarchy. Accept only who will conform to the social norms.


3. If you’re not like the rest, you must prove you are extraordinary to be treated (almost) as an equal.

He was only accepted by his peers and achieved fame and prosperity only after he discovered he had the special ability to fly thanks to his long ears. Forget the fact that he discovered he could fly after getting drunk on champagne and after befriending the mouse Timothy. Indeed, forget the mouse.

Lesson 3: In order to be accepted with your differences, you must excel at something and prove you are worth the time and trouble. Those who are different and not able to justify their existence are burdens, if not threats, to society. People will generally accept you only on a condition that you follow the rules better than others who feel entitled to their rights by birth and not merit. 


4. Outcasts belong with others of their kind - Like with like!
The only ones who initially cared for Jumbo Junior were his mother, out of maternal love, and Timothy, the mouse, out of pity more than anything else. And, no, don’t forget the mouse. For, a long standing misconception has been that elephants are afraid of mice. So, by associating with the creature most feared by elephants, Jumbo was also associating himself with other outcasts. Jumbo’s mother can also be seen as an outcast as she was once thrown in solitary confinement away from the elephants after getting angry when the other elephants made fun of Jumbo for having his long ears.

Lesson 4: People who are outcasted because of their differences have a place only with others In their position or with those who choose to associate with them. Mixing with others of [a different kind’ will destroy the order of the whole of society in the longterm..


Concluding zLesson


At face value, the story of Dumbo appears to offer hope to those of us who are different and judged for it. If we take the long ears as a symbol representing impairment, it is easy to assume that the story of Dumbo is one which expresses a kind of triumph over impairment or as a story of inclusion and a celebration of diversity, the real message is rather different.

Unfortunately, given that only a few would suspect a Disney movie can be expressing values that appear positive but are, in fact, deceptive and exclusive.


For, Jumbo Junior is not accepted forwho he is as an elephant but for the special abilities he has. There would be no story if Jumbo hadn’t learned that he could fly. His acceptance wasn’t an example of inclusion but an example of normalisation. Stripped of his special abilities, the insulting nickname he reclaimed “Dumbo” would have remained just that - an insult meant to belittle him. At no time do we see others around him accept him for who he was and no one supported him (except perhaps Timothy) in his life. While he appears to have triumphed at the end by becoming a rich elephant, this was also a form of segregation.

Even if he became a famous and rich elephant, he still lived away from the other elephants. At the end of the movie, he was never truly included.


In other words, the new Dumbo remained an outsider and only accepted because he could entertain the crowds. He was valued on the grounds of utility. He was just a means to an end. His life wasn’t valued because he was a being but because he could do something that people approved of. We never come to accept Dumbo as a unique creature, and we rarely get to know his character. We only know him as a flying elephant and, again, his identity is obscured by his physical difference. Like other real life people such as the one of Rain Man, there’s a danger of accepting a person in general and a disabled person in particular, only because we are somehow fascinated and ‘inspired’ by an extraordinary ability. But, the truth is that those who might have achieved extraordinary things are exceptions and not the rule.

I’m not saying this to diminish the work achieved by those disabled people who have achieved great things or those who had to face difficult challenges to get where they are today. However, inspiring as these individuals, my friends, are, this isn’t what true inclusion is all about. Why should we be expected to make all the changes and put in all the effort while society doesn’t support us or even may make it more difficult?


True, I have witnessed many positive changes in this regard. But, I suspect that people still continue to offer help or support to those deemed worthy and who conform to the norm and who are easier to include. While those who require more help are often the ones least to get it or, worse, put apart from the rest because

they are labelled ‘problem cases’ and not as persons. Like you and me.
Indeed, the story of Dumbo is not about inclusion but about changing to fit in. Being extraordinary to be close to being treated as an ordinary person. It’s not even about acceptance but more about conforming or becoming more normal in a society that often preaches inclusion but implicitly practices exclusion.


No, Jumbo or Dumbo is not my role model. He never was and will never be.


I don’t have to prove my value as a human being. Or justify my existence.


I am entitled to my human rights irrespective of whether I can walk, see, hear or think like the norm.

And I certainly don’t want to suffer dumbification!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Right to Secrecy Denied: Disabled People and the Secret Vote

Excuse me, MsJustice... Could you kindly tell me how you're voting? No secret vote for you - You're blind, you see...

A POLITICAL CONUNDRUM?

I hesitate to write about political issues for a number of reasons. One is, of course, that anything I say risks being interpreted politically. Secondly, the fact that, as a visually impaired person, I am forced to vote in front of what is called an “electoral commission”, one might say that my vote is an ‘open secret’ since I have to reveal my vote to third parties.


A SECRET DENIED

Granted, the members forming part of every electoral commission in each locality is bound by law to keep my vote confidential. However, a number of appointed commissioners are also appointed party officials and have political interests. Indeed, the possibility that this knowledge is either exploited for political ends or else, used against me in any way in the future, are a real cause of concern. In addition, the fact that some disabled people have to vote with the assistance of an electoral commission may have more serious implications, especially in more closely knit communities such as those found in Gozo.
Apart from that, by being denied the right to a secret vote, I'm also being denied one of my fundamental civil liberties and human rights. On the other hand, this state of inequalities that still exist in Malta, at least, may change with Malta's ratification of the UN Convention Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) since Article 29 of the same convention includes the right to participate in public and political life. In fact, the article affirms that all disabled people,, whatever their impairment, should have access not only to a vote, but to a secret vote.


THE UNCRPD IN PRACTICE

At this point, it's important to explain what the functions of the UNCRPD are.
First, the UNCRPD is not creating any new rights for disabled people. Rather, the UNCRPD is a document produced after a series of discussions between various stakeholders involved in the area of disability, including disabled people and their representative organisations, where parties agreed that disabled people were denied the enjoyment of their human rights because society failed to keep their needs into account when it came to providing access to these rights.
Secondly, since the UNCRPD goes into practical details on how states can enable disabled people to benefit from their rights, the recommended action to ensure equality of access to these rights will, indirectly, benefit other groups in society who may be excluded from accessing their human rights because of other factors other than impairment. Indeed, , this isn’t just something we, disabled people, will benefit from.

ACCESSIBLE VOTING MEANS EQUALITY FOR ALL!

True, all of us who are blind or have a visual impairment, those of us who due to a physical impairment can’t use our hands or have a print disability are bound to benefit. But this right will also provide people who cannot read or write, for example, with the chance to vote in secret.Regrettably, I am also aware that certain disabled people, including people with an intellectual impairment or those with mental health conditions are often denied the right to vote altogether without much question. An injustice that also needs to be addressed.
As for me, I admit that I feel anxious when it gets to the voting season. The fact is, as things stand, I know that I must reveal my political affiliations once again to another group of perfect strangers. Trustworthy, perhaps, but still strangers. While I don’t find any problem with sharing my political views with those I trust the most, I’m not that comfortable with revealing my political preferences to others (whoever they may be). The fact that most citizens can vote in secret means that, come election time, I am being treated unequally to other citizens who are able to make use of the ballot paper.
Moreover, as explained already, I fear that, by disclosing my vote to appointed party officials, I risk suffering discrimination on the bases of my political opinions. Having said that, any political beliefs I might have doesn’t mean I think of disability in terms of party politics. Indeed, I firmly believe that disability is an issue that shouldn’t be politicised in the sense that disability should never become victim to partisan political exigencies. Indeed, not only would it be irresponsible of me,as someone active in public life, to address disability as a matter of party politics but the truth of the matter is that disability is one concern that cuts across every political or social affiliations. It affects, in one way, us as we grow old, it affects our children, our loved ones and all our families.

CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS

I acknowledge that local governments have responded to the problems faced by blind people, by following up on discussions with organisations representing the interests of blind or visually impaired people, such as through the introduction of the Braille ballot paper. However, considering this option only improves the situation for a few Maltese blind people who have learned Braille. In addition, this option will do nothing to improve the situation of all Maltese disabled people of voting age.
While I understand that given our turbulent political history as a nation, politicians from all sides might be reluctant to consider alternative ways by which disabled people, in particular, can vote – such as using technological solutions or the assistance of a trusted person (with the latter alternative being perhaps the most controversial in Malta*). Yet, politicians should recognise the fact that denying us the right to a secret vote also means that we remain less than second class citizens as whenever we say or write something, we know that other people actually know how we voted in the last election.

HOPES FOR THE FUTURE

I end this article with hope. Hope that with Malta’s ratification of the UNCRPD, politicians of all political persuasions, will give us our right to vote in secret. I hope that, just for once, politicians will agree that we can no longer be treated as political tokens used to increase votes and popularity. To recognise that the vote is truly an important document which enables us to have a say in the running of our country. Indeed,only when we're able to cast our vote on an equal level to others can we say that we're moving to a position of equality.

BACKGROUND AND COMMENTARY

MALTA: A BRIEF POLITICAL HISTORY LESSON

Malta is an island state located in the Mediterranean Sea between the North of Africa and the South of Italy (a few kilometres below Sicily). The total population of Malta stands at about 400,000 people. Most of the population reports to be Roman Catholic - although, as Malta has become less insular than in the past, many aspects of society have become more secular. Having said that, the Church still plays an influence on many aspects of Maltese society.
Malta has been, for most of its history, ruled by foreign powers which left various influences on Maltese culture, language and religion. Up to 1964, Malta was still under British rule from which Malta inherited its political system. In fact, since the independence of 1964, party politics have been dominated by two main political parties, each leaning either to the centre left (Partit Laburista - the Labour Party) or centre right (Partit Nazzjonalista - the Nationalist Party). However, Malta’s accession in the European Union could help more voters to elect members of other parties who deviate from traditional politics and, thus, introduce much needed political reform.
Historically, voters have generally chosen candidates coming from the two main political parties and while there have been parties which were formed following internal divisions, these didn’t last for long. However, recent years have seen the foundation of a new party based on a green party politics agenda (Alternattiva Demokratika - the Democratic Alternative) emphasising issues related to the environment, equal rights and freedom of expression. Other important factors which may result in structural reform in parliament through the election of members belonging to third (or more) parties include the challenges posed by the global economic recession, the issue of illegal immigration and a general disenchantment with ways in which traditional parties engage in politics. into Malta,
* The voting system by which blind or visually impaired person could ask to vote with the assistance of a person of his/her choosing, or the ‘trusted friend’ is still very controversial as when it was allowed in Malta, this system was abused.

ELECTIONS AND ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE

The upcoming elections for 2013 are planned to be held on March 9, 2013. Registered voters over the age of 18 are eligible to vote unless they are not serving a prison sentence,, have a particular mental health condition deemed to impair their ability to take decisions or people who have been assessed as having an intellectual impairment. Moreover, blind people who can’t confidently use the Braille ballot paper, or those with a visual impairment, people who can’t use their hands or, in any way, cannot fill in the ballot paper using the cheap pencils provided will need to vote in front of an electoral commission.

RELATED CONTENT

Xuereb, M. ( 2013) “Blind people ‘denied’ the right to secret vote”, The Times of Malta (Jan. 19, 2013) . Available from:
(Last Accessed: Feb 21, 2013)


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Gordon C. CardonaREFERENCE


Cardona, G. C. (21 Feb, 2013) A Right to Secrecy Denied: Disabled People and the Secret Vote from: Gordon’s D-Zone. Available from: http://gdzone.gordongd.com/2013/02/a-right-to-secrecy-denied-disabled_21.html

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L)) In my own words...