Another week of serving people
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
The world, Malta included, during the past week, watched enthralled the outcome of the US presidential election. With over 200 million registered voters and the important role the USA plays in world economic and political scenarios, the event was closely followed by the international media the world over.
The US presidential election
As it happened, the world’s attention was and still is focused on perhaps one of the most polarized elections in US history. Not only will the winner seal the fate of Americans for the next four years, but the result will also have important ramifications for the rest of the world. Whatever political direction is taken by the newlyelected president, it will surely have repercussions elsewhere.
There are lessons to be learnt from any event, including the US presidential results. It seems that, generally speaking, some political systems around the world have been unable to or obstructed from responding adequately to popular demands for greater equality. This made it possible for relative outsiders to have an impact. While acknowledging the American electorate’s choice, the whole world is now looking to see what that choice brings with it.
From my perspective, I look forward to whatever can be done worldwide to ensure full rights for human dignity and equality among the fast-increasing older population and those with disabilities. After all, in all countries, big or small, politicians are meant to serve their nation in the best interests of all their citizens, primarily those who mostly need support. In this case too, one week is a long time in politics, as the choices made will affect future decisions and commitments.
Children with disabilities
Only a week earlier I had the honour to address an evening seminar held at The Palace in Valletta, organised by the President’s Foundation for Wellbeing in Society. It dealt with issues regarding children with disabilities and an opportunity to reflect on all that is being done for them by the government, parents and a variety of voluntary organisations.
I reiterated the government’s commitment to fully endorse and implement the UN conventions of children’s rights, and that concerning the rights for people with disabilities. We need to fully believe that their rights are better understood when we embrace the international motto “Nothing about us, without us”. This includes children with disabilities where all of us – parents and policymakers – need to listen to and fully understand children’s needs and expectations.
Most decisions are taken by adults, but these will only make sense and be effective if they include the voice of these children. This can be achieved by continuous listening and efforts to involve them directly in the decision-making process. We need to focus on different forms of disability and – as in the case of the new law about the autism spectrum – we provide the necessary tools for self-determination.
Independent living and empowerment
In view of this, the long list of laws that have been enacted over the past three years have been further complemented with the Budget 2017 measures, namely the personal assistance scheme, with further concepts of supported decision making and empowering programmes.
While upgrading the current day centres for these people, we are now in the process of having a new centre where the modern concept of including family members will be introduced. Professional training will include the input of carers and parents and will eventually be continued outside the centre itself, and extended to the family home itself. This ensures continuity and full participation of all immediately involved with the person with disability.
The long list of budget measures for the coming year are not only those that cater for substantial financial increases in pensions and allowances, but basically provide tangible initiatives that are inspired by our strong belief in equality, equity and accessibility. They all stem from our strong belief in a fair society, as amply expressed in the national policy and strategy we have been implementing throughout this legislature.
The launching of this year’s Premju “Soċjetà Ġusta” (a Fair Society) also highlights the recognition we need to give the disability sector. This year we are emphasising the abilities, the potential and involvement of people with disability. We need to portray people with disability as active members of our society and not mere passive recipients of help.
Digital participation for the elderly
This week I also launched a new campaign to create awareness on better care for older people during the cold winter months. We will again encourage the elderly themselves to resort to social media and post their own pictures stating the best precautions one should take to avoid falling ill during the colder months. A similar initiative was successfully concluded in September when many participated in the summer version on how best to handle and cope with the summer heat.
Older persons will post photos on the “Għall-Irdoss millBard“page on Facebook, where they give ideas and advice for preventing health hazards when it gets colder. During the well-attended event held at the Paola Active Ageing Centre, Gloria Callus was declared winner of the summer competition. Participation certificates were also presented to 170 senior citizens who attended the “Fall Awareness Course”, organised by our Department for Active Ageing and Community Care.
Such initiatives fully commit older persons attending Learning Centres and others in residential homes to remain active in the digital world. It is indeed encouraging to witness their enthusiasm in such competitions, proving that they do not only show their newly acquired technological knowledge, but show their skills when communicating with family members and new friends. It is in fact an effective exercise in life-long learning and empowerment.
The “long week in politics” included many other events for me in the disability and elderly sectors, both in Malta and in Gozo. Most of all I could experience the importance of having all these people engaged in the many projects we plan for them and with them along the path of social inclusion.