Letters: 29 November 2015

Not the kind of facility we want

Allow me to share my thoughts regarding the proposed disability hub, as yet the message is not at all clear.

All I can gather from news snippets is that an area large enough to build a suitable pool, gym, premises for respite care services and for NGOs that cater for persons with disabilities, a block or two for residential flats suitable for some 60 disabled persons and spaces for retail shops or catering establishments is planned.

If this is the case, then I agree with former KNPD chairman Joe Camilleri that this intended hub, which may be motivated by the right intentions, will be a step backwards, instead of forwards, for disabled persons as a whole. 

I fear that once this is established as an intended one-stop-shop it would be actually a large residential unit with its 60 occupants as a focal point, and will end up creating an isolated area for disabled people where they will function in almost complete isolation, since all services and facilities would end up in a dumping hub rather than a disability hub.

Are all the existing services and facilities such as day care centres and respite services at Mtarfa and the Independent living centre at Hal Far to be dismantled and set up in this proposed hub? If this is the case it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

As a person rendered wheelchair bound due to a spinal chord injury and who lived life from both sides of the divide, I know from experience that our non-disabled peers do not care to mingle in an area within a large cocktail of all sorts of persons with disabilities unless they are employees, and with all due respect neither do persons with disabilities themselves.

I know quite a few persons with physical disabilities who know what they want out of life: they want to mingle on board a regular route bus and at regular bus stops, in mainstream schools, at regular work places and at the usual, popular places of entertainment. 

I know a lot more persons with disabilities, especially persons with an intellectual impairment, who deep down in their hearts and minds have the same wishes and desire. But they are often strongly, and wrongly, influenced by their loved ones to create a future for themselves in isolated, sheltered homes where they are encouraged to mingle with ‘their own kind’.

Understandably, parents often fear that their disabled offspring will experience abuse and this is why they prefer custodial care to independent living for their children. The government should be addressing the desires of disabled people and the parents’ concerns, not opting to satisfy the latter group only.

NGOs run by non-disabled people but speaking on behalf of persons with intellectual impairments press hard for premises with this social perspective and they have a strong lobby with the authorities, and hence this proposed hub.

I now live at Akwarell, one of the homes in the community established by Dar tal-Providenza, and my zest for life has now increased and my family’s mind is at rest, living within the community at Qawra. Through this my neighbours know me for whom I am and not stereotyped as ‘that poor guy in the wheelchair’ and thanks to the brave decision taken by the Dar tal-Providenza to set up small homes within the community and not taking fast solutions by housing large groups in residential blocks, in spite of the fact that their financial resources is the generosity of the public and divine providence. 

Yes, indeed we should tap taxpayers and EU funding (while we still have the opportunity) for €12 million, to create further community homes as a way forward. We should be investing in more and better trained carers, possibly through the setting up of a training centre, to professionally train carers to work with persons with physical impairments, with persons with different levels of intellectual impairments and people with challenging behaviour. Carers in the care industry are hard to come by and they should be trained professionally. 

The proposed measure of the government covering half the costs for those elderly persons who opt to employ live-in carers is an excellent initiative and it should also be applicable to persons with disabilities to encourage every option of living within the community.

I also challenge the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, minister of Social Policy and the shadow minister to spend a day in a wheelchair to see the hardships and social struggles we face. Moreover, I urge a serious constructive debate regarding this proposed hub.

Tonio Mercieca, Qawra