The word is action

I am proud to recall how through recent years we have collectively made significant changes to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, even during the worst times of the pandemic

As the Minister for Inclusion, on Thursday and Friday of this week I had the pleasure of addressing and hosting an important international conference of the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) which represents over 20,000 support services for persons with disabilities across the whole of Europe.

This was no humdrum conference aimed at providing annual fora for a selected number of participants in their given sector, but one with a specific aim - ‘Quality of Life & Support Services: From Words to Action’. The conference included a set working programme spotlighting both the achievements and the challenges ahead to all of us involved in the disabilities sector, from academics, service providers and policy makers to regulators, service users and professionals with the full participation of persons with disabilities themselves and their families and guardians.

However small, Malta has made substantial progress in this sector and I am proud to recall how through recent years we have collectively made significant changes to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, even during the worst times of the pandemic. As Maya Doneva, EASPD Secretary General, said: “The pandemic has really shown what we as social service providers do and how essential we are for each community.”

The relevance of such international gatherings is reflected in the vast exchange of views, training and experiences among both local and international stakeholders, no doubt positively influencing each other to reach new highs for a section of the population that had been for far too long on the sidelines.

Embracing change and moving away from the word “hope” is imperative as we seek to transform, in concrete terms, our actions in a way that empowers not just persons with a disability but also our policymakers. Instilling change is an essential part of providing a distinctly better quality of life to those persons we support in our society as the ongoing search for rightful inclusion, equity, independence, justice and fairness gains momentum.

There will always be room for improvment, of course. We do not dare claim our work has been done and all’s right with the world. However, we honestly believe we can be part of an array of successful models, as evidenced during the EASPD conference when the Malta and Scotland models were presented for both discussion and diffusion. We can modestly say that we were able to submit the perfect example of sheer determination and dedication on the part of all players in the Maltese disability sector, from national agencies and voluntary organisations to persons with disabilities, their families and guardians.

“Quality of Life and Support Services: from Words to Actions” was indeed an inspiring title for the conference, reflecting the need to further motivate support services in implementing modern quality measurement models that focus on improving the quality of life of the people we support. Malta’s transition “from paper to action” is, today, a tangible reality.

Suffice to say how we have put into action several initiatives and projects to ensure a better quality of life. Millions have been invested in Day Centres run by Aġenzija Sapport, the ‘Way to Work’ scheme which will prepare persons with disability with the neccessary training before they enter the world of work, and the SensAbility scheme which allows people to have a multi-sensory room in their own homes are just a few of the many projects and initiatives that are putting those in need at the centre of our communities.

We always emphasise that the main strategy adopted by Aġenzija Sapport is to provide people with disability with support rather than care, so that they would be able to achieve independence to the best of their ability, continue living within the community and receive support as and when required. All of that based on person-centred and family-centred planning,  quality measurement models, and co-production, among others.

The emphatic rationale of the EASPD conference in Malta was that of recognising the issue of measuring the quality of services for persons with disabilities as a challenging mission for most service providers.

The challenges arise not only from the lack of a mutually agreed definition on what quality is but also on how it can be measured efficiently and how it can further help services improve – a mission that is acknowledged at all levels of different world societies, including the European Union.

This week’s conglomeration of no less that 60 international and national speakers was an event that spurs us on to even greater efforts at making the lives of persons with disabilities not only better, but also of prime quality. Sharing our experiences with so many protagonists and learning from theirs was a sure way of meeting the ever-changing challenges of our mission. For us, the word has been and always will be action.