“It’s just one step. Walk it.” Had these words been uttered by Our Lord, they would have had salutary effect on the listener with disability in front of Him. Unfortunately, they were spoken by an employee of a public company to a person in a wheelchair.
Her answer was: I cannot walk, not even one step.
What could I write? Insensitivity? Ignorance? Lack of training? A patronising attitude?
Many measures have been taken to improve the life of people with disabilities, but much more needs to be done.
A person keen on doing more is former Labour MP and currently Aġenzija Support CEO Oliver Scicluna, himself a person with disability. He lost his seat in parliament together with another very competent person with disability: PN MP Kevin Cutajar; perhaps an indication of people’s attitude to persons with disability.
In a recent interview in Times of Malta, Scicluna said that Aġenzija Sapport – the national agency that provides services for people with disabilities – is working on a paradigm shift in the services offered to persons with disability: from home carers to personal assistants.
“Personal assistance is a new concept whereby a person with a disability is given an assistant to help them reach their potential,” Scicluna told Times of Malta. “From basic needs like cleaning their home and shopping for groceries, to assistance in the place of work.”
Unlike a home carer, the personal assistant’s recruitment and training would be controlled by the person with the disability who would train the assistant according to his or her needs.
A praiseworthy concept that would help people with disability live a better quality of life. Scicluna needs all the help he can get to succeed in having this person-centred approach adopted by the government.
His could prove to be an uphill struggle. The ink was still fresh on the paper edition of Times of Malta when we were informed that Mario Azzopardi, a wheelchair user, elected to the local council of Gżira on the PN ticket on August 17, could not take his place on the council as the lift to the council room was out of order.
It only needed a council administration with a collective IQ of 10 to realise that the solution was somehow finding a different room where the council meeting could be held while the lift was being repaired.
We need a more educated and humane attitude by the public- Fr Joe Borg
While Scicluna is, quite rightly, proposing a holistic and person-centred approach to persons with disability, Transport Malta, just to quote one example, is adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. TM has a policy of reserving parking places in front of houses of persons with disability or for community use. All well and good. But this policy does not address urgent personal needs.
The mother of a person with a severe disability, for example, requested a 1.2-metre space reserved in front of her door. The reason was that she could place a ramp when her daughter – who is a wheelchair user – visits her. The ramp would be placed on arrival and removed to be placed again when the person is leaving. These were not ‘courtesy’ visits. But since the person with the disability could not stay alone at her home, she could then stay with her mother while her husband is at work. But TM said that its rules cannot be bent.
It is not only government institutions which are not flexible enough.
Feasts have become a nightmare. In several places, pavements – many of which are not easily accessible on normal days – become totally inaccessible due to street furniture on feast days. One would expect better from Church organisations.
The tourist industry also has its faults.
A manager of a timeshare complex told me that he cannot have one room fully disability-friendly because ‘normal’ people would object to staying in such a room. Awful, isn’t it?
Travelling abroad with a wheelchair user has improved in several countries but it is still problematic in many.
Getting a hotel with a fully accessible room means getting a hotel which is generally more expensive and not always so easy to find.
I will spare readers the many ugly experiences my family went through on foreign visits.
Legislation makes a big difference and policy initiatives like those Oliver Scicluna is working for are fantastic.
But more than that we need a more educated and humane attitude by the public. People with some forms of disability are not asking for charity but for justice because they are not children of a lesser god.