I am an Occupational Therapist by profession, since 1988. I practiced as an OT both in Malta and in London where I worked at King’s College Hospital and studied for my Master in Neurorehabilitation at Brunel University between 1995 and 1998. In 2003 I had a road traffic accident which resulted in a complete spinal injury the result of which I am now a wheelchair user. Since then I worked at the National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD) in Malta for 9 years where I was in charge of the Servizz Ghajnuniet Specjali (Assistive Apparatus Service) (SGhS) which partially funds disabled people and their families to enable them to purchase the assistive equipment they need to live a more independent life. In my time at KNPD, together with a team of colleagues, I was Project Leader of two EU funded projects related to my work at SGhS. The two projects cost over a million euro. The first project consisted of the training of healthcare professionals in the field of assistive technologies with particular focus on wheelchairs and seating, adaptive driving and transportation and devices that help in activities of daily living.
The second project consisted of the construction of an Independent Living Centre in which disabled people and their families/carers could obtain professional advice, assessment, training and information, as well as trial different assistive technologies before making the final decision on which devices to purchase that are the best for their needs. An adaptive driving motoring school was also set up within the Centre in which disabled people can be professionally assessed regarding their driving skills following an accident or illness and can be given advice and training regarding the best adapations for their vehicles so they can return or learn how to drive. This centre, named after a disabled colleague, the Sonia Tanti Independent Living Centre, and which is in Hal Far, Malta, was officially opened in 2011 and has since proven to be of great benefit to many disabled people in Malta.
In 2012, I then started a PhD on this same topic, this time focusing on enabling technology and the employment of disabled people. This research study in still ongoing. In 2012 I also moved to the University of Malta, where together with other colleagues we set up the first Department of Disability Studies.
Due to the limited resources in the rehabilitation of spinal injuries in Malta, after my accident in 2003, I was lucky to return to the UK, this time to the National Spinal Injuries Centre in Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury for my own rehabilitation. During that time I could appreciate the variety of assistive equipment and technology that exists to help disabled people like myself carry out from the very basic of daily activities to more complex work and leisure activities. Although an OT myself, I had had little exposure to such technology in Malta and therefore I came back with a fervent wish to develop this area when back home. Upon my return I started working at the National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD) and this is where the dream could slowly become reality …. See the development of the Sonia Tanti Independent Living Centre above.
With regard to the setting up of the Department of Disability Studies, this was the fruit of a number of disabled and non-disabled people including activists and academics who saw the need to develop such a department. The Disabled People’s Movement in Malta had grown and it was time to now develop the research part of the Movement. I was the first academic to be employed in this department and with the rest of the team we are developing it further every year.
Prepare yourselves well: get all the information you can before you start planning the project. Always collaborate with other ‘experts’ and ask the people who will be the project users what they would like out of it. Share your information.
Opportunities: I was always surrounded by people, including my managers and colleagues, who believed in my potential and always provided me with the opportunities to grow and develop in my personal and professional life. It was this belief that always gave me the motivation to move on. I was also very inspired by my disabled colleagues who had been in the field much earlier than myself and who were an example of how I could give my contribution to disabled people’s cause in Malta.Threats: Lack of financial and human resources have at times been a threat, and the many barriers (both structural and attitudinal) that I meet with as a disabled person in my everyday life that at times make it difficult/tiring to carry on working in this field.At University we are always encouraged to carry on with our work and our every initiative is well received and supported.