Living in the community: A human right for all disabled persons

When analysing the disability framework, it appears that thanks to the substantial efforts of activists, Non-Governmental Organisations, Disabled People’s Organisations and other stakeholders, and the State, we have seen several important changes which advanced further the rights of people with disability and their quality of life. Nevertheless, it is evident that the country could have done much better. 

It is evident that authorities and the Government as a whole, are faced with challenges when trying to implement the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This Convention was signed by Malta in 2008 and ratified in 2012, together with the Optional Protocol to the said Convention. Despite the good intentions that certain politicians might have in safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities and their families, they nonetheless fail to comprehend their true needs. Disabled people are after the adequate implementation of the UNCRPD, the National Policy for the Rights of Persons with Disability and the safeguarding of their rights through the Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act of 2000.

People with disability believe that one of the most important factors is for one to lead an independent life is their own personal autonomy. It is crucial for persons with disability to be in a position to choose what they want to do, who they want to live with and to be able to take personal decisions. Sprinthall and Collins (1995) proposed that autonomy involves adjusting not one but several aspects of behaviour and feelings, physical and economic independence, as well as autonomy in reasoning, judgement, and values.

It is crucial for persons with disability to be in a position to choose what they want to do, who they want to live with and to be able to take personal decisions.

Change cannot be generated without the deconstruction of the current scenario if we want to better understand the aspirations of people with disability. We need to understand how those living in institutions, those who live in their own home as well as those who live with their parents are getting on.  

Consequently, it is essential to map the barriers that people with disability currently face in being included in society on an equal basis with others. This is evident through Article 19 on the UNCRPD which clearly notes that disabled persons should have the opportunity to choose where to live and with whom they want to live and should not be made to live in a particular environment against their wishes.

Additionally, the same article specifically mentions the obligation of the State to offer a range of in-home services and community support services, including personal assistance, which would support the disabled individual in meeting their particular needs. Furthermore, Article 19 complements the latter by stating that other community services and facilities offered to the general population should be made available on an equal basis to disabled persons (United Nations, 2006).

In light of the above, it is believed that Malta lacks research on how Article 19 of the UNCRPD is being ratified within the Maltese context. This research is essential in order to pave the way for concrete and appropriate steps to be taken with respect to this subject-matter. It is important to examine this phenomenon by focusing specifically on the challenges – both past and present – faced by successive Maltese administrations in implementing this article. The views and experiences of decision-makers and policymakers need to be studied, whilst those of disabled persons and their families need to be discussed and factored in. Conversely, the views of professionals and front-line practitioners in the field will have to be included to allow for a clearer picture of the supervening scenario.

Ultimately, the aim is to identify the underpinnings of fundamental obligations and discretionary actions which will assist in planning a way forward on this very important aspect. Institutionalization does not stop with the disability sector but also effects, children, inmates, migrants and the elderly.  

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