Research Student: Maria Victoria Gauci
Enabling Technology and Employment of Disabled People in Malta : from Charity to Empowerment?
This research study will be exploring the journeys, the influences and the role/value of enabling technology in the field of employment of disabled people in Malta. It will be a qualitative participatory research study (Seale, 2012; Bryman, 2008; Zarb, 1992, 1995) with the inclusion of emancipatory research principles (Oliver, 1992; Stone & Priestley,1996; Barnes, 2003) and will therefore have the social model of disability(UPIAS, 1976; Oliver, 1983) as a foundation. This mixed methods study will consist of two stages, with the use of focus group discussions in the first stage and individual interviews in the second stage.
The need for this study was felt by Maltese disabled people (KNPD, 2010) who are constantly faced with the inaccessibility of enabling technology that may assist their daily independence and especially in the field of employment. The need for this study was also highlighted by the limited number of studies that have been carried out locally and that have shown that there are numerous barriers still existing in this field (e.g. Callus & Bezzina, 2004; FITA, 2009; FITA, 2014; KNPD, 2014). Whilst till the age of 18, disabled people are being offered opportunities and support to develop their full potential, they are meeting with a huge lacuna when they come to enter the world of employment (National Policy on Disabled People and Employment, 2009). The employment rate of disabled people in Malta is in fact very low : Census 2011 statistics showed that only 16.5% disabled people were employed when compared to the 51% of non-disabled people (NSO, 2014). The above reflect international trends, and although worldwide there is legislation and policies that affirm the importance placed on the role of technology to improve the lives of disabled people (Assistive Technology Act of 1998; Assistive Technology Act of 2004; Borg, Larsson &Ostergren, 2011) and that ensures that the necessary mechanisms are put in place (EU Employment Equality Directive 2000; UK Department for Work and Pensions, 2007 ; Malta Equal Opportunities Act, 2000; UNCRPD, 2007), there is still a lot left to be done in practice. It is hoped that this study will contribute in the construction of recommendations for an enabling technology policy, which is currently non-existent in Malta, built not on concepts of charity but on concepts of empowerment.
I am an Occupational Therapist by profession. I completed my Diploma in OT in 1988 and then did a Master in Neurorehabilitation at Brunel University, London UK graduating in 1997. I worked mainly in the neurorehab field until in 2003 I had a motor vehicle accident the result of which I am now paraplegic. I then moved to work at the National Commission Persons with Disability as Manager of the Assistive Apparatus Service and since 2012 am Coordinator of the Disability Studies Unit within the Faculty for Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
My work contract at the University of Malta is bound with undertaking PhD studies and the lack of disability research in Malta encouraged me to continue my studies in this field.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
Being a disabled occupational therapist and having worked in both fields (disability and OT), I have come to appreciate the barriers (attitudinal, physical and institutional) that still exist for disabled people in all areas of their life. The possibility of contributing through my work and my research to the reduction or removal of these barriers is the main motivation in my studies.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
Once I have completed my PhD I will continue with the development of the Disability Studies Unit at the University of Malta not only for the advancement of disability research locally but also in the euro-mediterranean region.