Another week of serv­ing peo­ple

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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.

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