In the words of Robert Hensel, “there is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more”.

Malta’s first ministry dedicated to inclusion and social well-being strives to ensure that the potential and skills of persons with disability are maximised so that they can reach their ultimate life goals and dreams.

In ensuring that disability rights policy is not treated as mere social policy but, rather, equality policy, the government has embarked upon a reform agenda which will reach its culmination this year.

From a legislative point of view, after intense work with all stakeholders, the draft of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be launched for public consultation.

This is an ambitious step that will make the substance of the convention directly enforceable in Maltese law, which is an approach far more ambitious than that adopted by other countries.

Concurrently, proper implementation structures based on best practice models will also be set up. This shall also set in motion amendments to the Equal Opportunities Act, which will also ensure that the relevant structures are in place for persons to be able to gain access to justice under the convention.

Also, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) will be bolstered through the strengthening of its enforcement arm.

Following the government’s electoral manifesto pledge, this ministry shall also be launching Malta’s 2021-2030 National Disability Strategy, which shall further take into account local and international developments. This strategy shall also lead to a National Autism Strategy for the same period, something that has been worked on for some time.

To ensure the independence and empowerment of persons with disability, this ministry is also prioritising the Personal Autonomy Act.

This law will ensure that the will and preferences of persons with intellectual disabilities are respected through a system of supported co-decision-making. 

Furthermore, linked legislation ensuring the protection of adults in situations of vulnerability will provide mechanisms to cut down on abusive practices where hate crimes are criminalised, prosecuted and sanctioned, thanks to amendments being introduced to the Criminal Code.

The provision of services has gone beyond offering a space where persons with a disability can go to a day centre to merely spend hours being taken care of- Julia Farrugia Portelli

The different meetings being held with various stakeholders working in the disability field is showing the ever-increasing need to ensure sustainable systems whereby independent living includes access to necessary structures and services. Community services offered by Aġenzija Sapport will be strengthened and intensive work is being undertaken to ensure better access to insurance for those persons with disabilities.

The provision of services has gone beyond offering a space where persons with a disability can go to a day centre to merely spend hours being taken care of.

The services have moved from providing care to helping skills develop through active support and facilitating self-advocacy and inclusion through individual support programmes set by a multidisciplinary team of professionals.

Families are an important element and, by providing the necessary support, persons with a disability can continue to thrive within the community, thus also reducing the need to move on to residential settings, albeit this is still a need for some.

Community services have been strengthened on various levels across the years and persons with a disability and their families are now being supported in accessing funding to make it easier for them to engage a carer of their choice.

Assistance is also being provided concerning assessments, guidance and funding that allows them to purchase assistive specialised equipment that is not provided by the state; and specialised assessments, training and exemptions if they opt to have their own means of modified transport.

Families, which include both parents/legal guardians and siblings, are offered support given that, in our culture, the extended family still plays an important role. Respite services have, thus, been strengthened and so have partnerships with the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

This is also complemented by continuous inter-ministerial collaborations to ensure that services and policies are developed in a more strategic manner. An example is the National Children’s Screening Strategy being formulated by the recently announced inter-ministerial group. For the first time, this will officially integrate the social, medical and educational elements when it comes to services and support for children.

As the ministry tasked with inclusion and social well-being, such initiatives will be foremost in the National Strategy for Social Well-being. This strategy is aiming to continue putting Malta at the forefront in the overhaul of its systems and practices in ensuring that the voices of the most vulnerable persons in society, particularly persons with a disability, are given the importance they deserve.  

In its first few months from its inception, this ministry has truly endorsed the mantra echoed in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Nothing about Us, Without Us”, and shall be seeing that,  through its initiatives, this is implemented in practice to truly lead to inclusion and the well-being of those most vulnerable.

Julia Farrugia Portelli is Minister for Inclusion and Social Well-being.

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