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:
• 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.
• 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
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.
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.
Gordon C. Cardona
rep. Maltese Council of Disabled People (MCoDP)
(affiliated with DPI)
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
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!
While I'm submitting this on behalf of MCoDP, the opinions expressed here don't necessarily reflect the views of all members.