The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

Equal access

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 25 March 2020, 08:08 Last update: about 13 days ago

I caught up with Dr Claire Azzopardi Lane who heads the Department of Disability Studies at the Faculty for Social Wellbeing. Her research interests focus on the sexuality of persons with disability, which is still a very controversial topic focusing mainly on sexual exploration and expression, sex education, sexual health needs of intellectually disabled youth and finally on the social perceptions of disabled people's sexuality.


When we spoke about the topic of social wellbeing, she said that; ‘social wellbeing is a state where not just the basic human needs are catered for, but also the personal needs that provide each person with a good quality of life.’

When I asked Dr Azzopardi Lane whether there still is place for doing good in society, she reacted by saying; ‘Undoubtedly there is! In the area of disability, fighting for the rights of persons with disability is necessary, as there is still discrimination and abuse. The cost of fighting for the rights of persons with disability mostly translates into frustration, when you see how these rights are repeatedly infringed.’

Dr Azzopardi Lane says that we function better as a society if there is equal access to education, to employment and to services. She emphasizes that it is not only persons with disability she is referring to, but persons from low socio-economic backgrounds, or other minorities found in our communities.

She continues to add that there are massive challenges being faced by society, namely, ‘…those of exploitation, poverty, discrimination and exclusion. Underlying causes could possibly be related to xenophobia and racism amongst other factors. Our minorities are not out of the woods yet.’

When it comes to disability related challenges, Dr Azzopardi Lane says that what we are facing in society is a situation where we are juggling with the following issues. ‘The disability sector has made positive leaps forward in these last 6 years, however challenges remain for those persons who require substantial support. For instance, those who would like to live in a place which is safe and where their quality of life is upheld, but due to the lack of housing possibilities are living in institutions that do not uphold their rights, or with family members who do not let them exercise their rights. Another challenge is the right for persons with disability to have access; access to information, physical access, access to services, and access to choice making. Access in all its forms is still not equal to what non-disabled persons enjoy.’

Naturally, disability issues when seen through the lens of disability studies change people's perspectives. We see this happening with every cohort of students who engage with our courses. 

The traditional ways of perceiving disability and disabled persons change when people are exposed to disability studies. People's perspectives change when seeing disability as a social issue, rather than within a framework of tragedy and charity. These same people are the ones who will be making the necessary changes in society for disabled persons to have their rights respected and their quality of life upheld.

Dr Azzopardi Lane informed me that in the forthcoming academic year, the Department of Disability Studies will be offering a Certificate Course in Community Access for Disabled Persons that will enable students to gain a deep understanding of disability, especially from the social and cultural dimensions.  One can also engage with Disability Studies at Bachelor or Masters level. The Department is also offering CPDs on Disability Issues in Practice, Safeguarding Disabled People’s Rights.

The disability sector has developed so much in Malta. Government agencies, such as Agenzija Sapport and other service providers have substantially expanded their workforce in the last years, and there is demand for persons who are knowledgeable and possibly experienced. These kinds of courses provide the grounding for people who will work in the disability sector, ensuring a professional and rights-based engagement in their job.

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