- Emerging Disability Issues:Varieties of Disability Activism and Disability Studies, University of Malta, Sliema, Malta
Academics from fifteen countries met at The Victoria Hotel in Sliema, Malta, for the Emerging Disability Issues: Varieties of Disability Activism and Disability conference, hosted by the University of Malta on 2–4 May 2018. The conference brought together a range of papers that focused on a number of disability issues, from access to employment to conducting research, and covered a wide range of impairments, demonstrating the vast differences within disability studies. It also explored a range of intersectional issues, including gender and race. According to Moodley and Graham "intersectionality as an analytical tool allows us to acknowledge the multiple identities of an individual and how these result in various experiences of disadvantage or advantage" (25). Exploring these issues not only aids in expanding research within disability studies but also provides the opportunity to join other minority groups and foster common ground. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. In one panel session, Kirstein Rummery (a candidate for the Women's Equality Party in Stirling, UK) commented on how there is a continued lack of support from feminist organizations toward disabled women and issues unique to them. While it is important to try and foster links with other oppressed groups, we need to realize that it is not a straightforward task; it can be hampered by numerous difficulties, including the disablism of other minority groups.
The conference was opened by several academics from the University of Malta. Joseph M. Camilleri and Alfred Bezzina gave a keynote speech entitled "Xejn dwarna minghajrna (Nothing about us without us): 70 years of struggle and radical changes in the disability sector in Malta." They provided a stimulating history of disability activism. Providing a breakdown of the different disability groups that exist in Malta, they argued that these separate groups are not effective in bringing about change, and called for the creation of umbrella groups that would provide a grassroots movement. [End Page 495] These groups would of course be stronger together in fighting for the common goal of equality for disabled people. After the speech, there were dance excerpts from "The Secret" performed by Opening Doors, a group of dancers with intellectual impairments. Opening Doors aims to provide people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to engage with the creative arts. This form of performance, Campbell argues, aids in challenging the socially constructed image of disabled people, such as renderings of the inferior and pitiful. It was a reminder that disability activism plays a big role outside of academia.
Eva Kittay (Stonybrook University, New York) gave the second keynote speech entitled "Disability Studies and an Ethics of Care: Partners or Antagonists?" She asserted that care is central to understanding disability and argued for an ethics of care that considers both the carer and the person being cared for. This was a timely speech given the neoliberal climate in which we live. Coupled with the social model of disability, the role of caring, which is linked to dependency, is often deemed unfavourable. However, Kittay argued that an ethics of care should meet the genuine needs and wants of a person, enabling them to live with dignity while not exploiting the carer. This keynote speech chimed with the argument that rehabilitation is an important aspect of disability studies, which should conceptualize rehabilitation from a rights-based approach and foster partnership with disabled people (Shakespeare et al.).
After the keynote speech, the conference broke off into three different sessions, all of which explored emerging disability issues in a range of countries. It was often difficult to know which session to attend due to the number of thought-provoking papers being presented. I decided to attend a session on gender, which provided an intersectional approach that explored the needs and experiences of disabled women. Amy Camilleri-Zahra (University of Malta) and Mary Ann Lauri (University of Malta) focused on the representations of disabled women in Malta, demonstrating how they are at a greater disadvantage than disabled men, due to cultural norms. Another interesting cultural reference was in relation to how disabled people in Malta are perceived as "Angels," a...