Disability in Malta is one colossal issue that is estimated at affecting circa 30,000 citizens directly (going with the 5%-10% WHO estimate) and at least another 80,000 family members circuitously. Now that is one big lobby, considering that this amount of citizens adds up to almost one third of the Maltese population - a noteworthy statistic that as a minimum merits attention from all stakeholders. I beseech people in the hot seats (policy makers, politicians, academics and grass root movement leaders/insiders) to start addressing with more vigor this complex agenda as this ‘agenda’ really is at a junction. As one noteworthy disability rights slogan says; ‘Actions speak louder than words!’
1. We need a well-organized Federation of Organizations of Persons with Disability and a robust and hardy Maltese Council of Disabled People. These two important structures need to be ‘on the ball’. There is too much pique and animosity between personalities and organisations that needs to be cleared up, sooner rather than later.
2. Public transport reform that ensures accessibility is crucial for this minority.
3. Unless employment schemes start leaving the desired impact the disability community will still be perceived as a non-contributory minority that is forever on the receiving end. Disabled people can only improve on their quality of life, if they are gainfully occupied.
4. More residential services applying innovative models are required rather than providing a fait accompli – take it - or leave it approach. A strategic plan also needs to be put into place to shut down the few large residential institutions left in Malta and develop personalized independent living residences instead.
5. Agenzija SAPPORT needs to keep investing in community services. The latest cliché in Malta seems to be ‘waiting lists’. Genuine people who ask for help cannot be placed on waiting lists. Theirs is an issue that has to be addressed within proper coordinated time-lines.
6. I reiterate the need to have an energetic and representative personality that can converge grassroot, academic, political and policy-makers towards a disability movement that has one clear objective ‘the creation of inclusive communities’.
7. KNPD needs to reoccupy the role of leadership and converge State policy and grassroots requests with the zest that was characteristic of this Commission in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
8. The media has a major role. The occasional oppressive and patronizing language keeps resonating. Media houses have a responsibility to train their staff on what lingo to use and how to capture the right picture – now this is censorship I could do with!
9. We need to strengthen the role of customer care for disabled people and their families. I’m bushed listening to disabled people tell about pseudo-psychologists that play the belittling game of ‘aw he’, ‘xi tridni naghmel misses’ and ‘daqt nibghatu ghalik’- clichés festooned with a smirky grin.
10. Proper and intelligible debate on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons needs to take place whereby all those in political sensitive positions are to realize the implications of such a document.
11. Local Councils need to build universal designed infrastructure and ‘whistleblow’ when their communities are being discriminatory.
12. The reasonability clause in the Equal Opportunities Legislation 2000 (Persons with Disability) needs to be used sparingly rather than habitually.
13. The University of Malta should provide more funds when it comes to research on disability issues.
14. We need to look closely at the Centers for Independent Living (UK) models to contrast the heavily staffed and disabling model of the Adult Training Centers. The ATC buildings should remain open till the evening to double up for community centers for one and all.
15. The dependency of charity on disabled people and vice versa needs to stop. Adequate public policy is to fill in the gaps.
16. The establishment of a Disability Studies Association that would converge and mentor research being done at graduate and post-graduate levels in this field of specialization is a priority.
17. There is still no consensus on what ‘inclusive education’ means to different people. ‘Inclusive education’ requires a strategy that does not stumble in special schools, learning zones and other exclusionary and segregative practices – but this has to be a long-term strategic rendezvous – we need serious debate on this issue.
18. NGOs should avoid running programmes for disabled students during school time, especially if this entails being withdrawn from class and from the school premises. Activities should take place with all the students and within the context of a student’s programme. Getting them away from their group will not serve any long-term educational purpose.
19. We need to promote Direct Payment and Personal Assistant Schemes in a more strategic and structured way.
20. MCAST programmes for disabled young people need to be localized within particular Institutes rather than placed at the margins of service-delivery.
21. We need to have more disabled young people like Roberta Magri (vide 1/3/2009~The Sunday Times of Malta) that are vociferous and strong worded in the media. What pulls me down is the defensive responses such contributions get. It is unacceptable that we rationalize discrimination.
22. We need to go beyond the rhetoric of annual reports and re-engage public policy in a creative way to make society work for its citizens and not the other way round.
With so many ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ disabled people and their relatives, with so many professional allies, specialists and experts, with so much ground gained in these last 25 years, the disability community can surely get much more out of this struggle which will apply itself to the rejuvenation and rekindling of the ‘disability movement in Malta’!
Andrew Azzopardi is Producer and Presenter of 'Ghandi x' Nghid' a current affairs programme broadcasted on Radju Malta (93.7FM) every Saturday at 9.05am