(Reply from Aġenzija Sapport in reaction to this article at the end)
In a world that constantly evolves and strives for inclusivity, the importance of accessible and affordable transportation services for people with disabilities cannot be overstated.
In recent years, Malta has made commendable progress in this regard, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that individuals with disabilities can lead independent, fulfilling lives. As a wheelchair user, I have experienced first-hand the challenges and triumphs of navigating Malta’s transportation landscape.
This is why I believe that there is a critical need for better transportation services that promote inclusivity. In addition, I also believe that there are other areas where Malta can improve, in order to be more inclusive for people with disabilities, especially concerning the financial burdens faced by people with disabilities when it comes to transportation services.
A costly barrier
One of the most significant obstacles faced by individuals with disabilities in Malta is the financial burden associated with transportation. Currently, people with disabilities must bear a hefty price tag to access basic mobility. Whether it’s to meet with friends or commute to work, the cost for ride-hailing services can range anywhere from €40 to €180 per trip, depending on the distance.
These expenses can be crippling and limit opportunities for social interactions, employment, and independence. Therefore, we need to ensure to ensure that us people with disabilities are not ending up paying through their noses purely because don’t have a choice.
A step in the right direction
The Empowerment Scheme, which can be accessed through Aġenzija Sapport, has been a vital initiative that has helped individuals with disabilities gain a degree of independence. This scheme subsidises 50 per cent of transportation costs for people with disabilities, making it more affordable for many. However, the remaining 50 per cent can still place a significant strain on the finances of individuals already dealing with the extra costs associated with their disability.
Moreover, the Empowerment Scheme indirectly limits the career choices available to people with disabilities. The scheme primarily supports desk jobs, which, while important, do not encompass the full range of talents and aspirations that individuals with disabilities possess.
This is why it’s crucial that the scheme is broadened to encompass careers beyond office settings, including careers that require constant traveling such as public relations or communications.
Expanding the scheme to include demanding but fruitful career paths will not only empower people with disabilities but also contribute to a more diverse and inclusive workforce in Malta.
By empowering individuals with disabilities to explore a wider range of career opportunities we can foster a more vibrant and innovative society, benefiting everyone.
The importance of inclusivity
Inclusivity is not merely a buzzword; it’s the cornerstone of a compassionate and thriving society. The benefits of an inclusive society extend to all its members, enhancing the quality of life for everyone involved.
Therefore, when individuals with disabilities are supported and empowered, it enriches the social fabric as a whole.
Transportation as a bridge to inclusion
Transportation serves as a bridge to inclusion. It enables people with disabilities to participate in social activities, access education, and pursue fulfilling careers.
This means that by investing in a reliable, accessible, and affordable transportation system, we would be giving these people the key that breaks down the barriers that isolate and hamper their full participation in society.
The way forward
To achieve a more inclusive society, Malta must continue its efforts to enhance transportation services for people with disabilities. This can be achieved through several key actions:
Affordability: The financial burden on people with disabilities must be alleviated. The government should consider increasing the subsidy provided by the Empowerment Scheme to cover a higher percentage of transportation costs, if not the full amount.
Accessibility: Ensuring that all forms of public and private transportation are fully accessible for individuals with disabilities is non-negotiable. This includes accessible vehicles and related infrastructure, as well as well-trained staff who can provide the necessary assistance.
Career Opportunities: Expanding the scope of the Empowerment Scheme to include a broader range of career opportunities for people with disabilities is essential. This will allow individuals to pursue their passions and contribute their talents to various sectors of the workforce.
Just like previous achievements in the inclusion sector, the well needed changes require a commitment from various stakeholders. It is a shared responsibility of government, society, and individuals to ensure that no one is left behind.
By investing in accessible and affordable transportation, Malta can continue to pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society where all individuals, regardless of their abilities, can thrive.
Official reply from Aġenzija Sapport
With reference to the article by Christine-Ann Deasey entitled Mobility Does Matter, published on The Journal on 22nd October, hereunder refers.
The author refers to the Empowement Scheme operated by Aġenzija Sapport, the national agency providing services and schemes for persons with disability. She goes further by referring to the Scheme as distinguishing between different careers of applicants. It is important to clarify that this is an errenous statement. Eligibility for the Empowerment Scheme is not based on different career options and thus the statement is incorrect and misleading.
As clearly stated when promoting the Scheme, it offers subsidy on individualised transport services to persons with disability who are not able to make use of public transport. Such uses vary from different places of work, post-secondary education, and also to sport activities when the applicants are enrolled with a registered club or organisation, as long as these are regular occurences and not one-off situations. Such subsidy usually ranges between 50 per cent to 75 per cent of the transport cost. The Board that evaluates the applications bases its decisions on quotations submitted. The Board also considers applications for transport subsidy should the applicant need to travel to a different location than the usual address, such as attending a work meeting.
The aim of the Empowerment Scheme is to promote independent living and assist persons with disability in achieving this.
Complementing the Empowerment Scheme, Aġenzija Sapport also operates a number of other schemes including: the Blue Badge Scheme, the Vehicle Road Licence Exemption Scheme, Vehicle Registration Tax Exemption Scheme, Drive From Wheelchair Vehicle Grant and the Grant on Modified, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles. All these schemes are aimed at increasing accessibility for persons with disability within the community and support independent living.
More information about the Empowerment Scheme and other services may be obtained from https://sapport.gov.mt/schemes/. One may also call on the Sapport Helpline – servizz.gov Freephone 153 (and press 5) to talk to one of our officers.
Photo: DOI (Omar Camilleri)