Gibraltar: a disabled society

Matthew J. Turnock, Disability Coordinator, ERG/AOP

Another year has passed and once again the 3rd  of December is upon us. It’s an annual flare which, from 1992, has lit up and marked the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disability. Yet, while time mercilessly moves on, we stand still. And, ironically, with all its parliamentary good faith, Gibraltar as a community is itself purposely impeded, curtailed, and disabled for reasons I will set out.

Despite this, this year we will once more be treated to what has become a round of virtue signaling and routine window-dressing: an official and institutional self-trumpeting of the ‘achievement’ marked in 2017 by a lame statute, the Disability Act 2017. A piece of legislation aiming to fly, but with wings severely and knowingly clipped.

It was, in fact, on the 13th of July 2017 that the Chronicle first reported on parliament’s unanimous approval of the new Act. Wonderful words such as ‘pioneering’ used by the Chief Minister, and ‘another milestone’ by the Minister for Equality today lie worn and tattered; indeed, from the very first day, they have been vacuums of hope for a community that has for too long lingered in the third-class compartment. Because the cacophony of self-applause masked a reality: sections 13 and 14 of the Act are written in red ink. This signifies that, though displayed, they are of zero effect. And yet they represent the two most vital issues for the disabled: access and accessibility. Rights given no effect to the same degree that they condemn disabled people to lives of limitation and exclusion.

One thing is for sure, the applause that rang through the House that day did not come from disabled hands.

For what could be more important to any person living with a disability than a necessary and liberating right in life to move freely, to have access, to depend on accessibility as they experience, as all citizens must, the life within their lives. Instead, red ink imprisons us all; not just the disabled, but the non-disabled, too. Even one of our parliamentarians, recently injured, is presently incapable of discharging their responsibilities simply because there is no disabled access to Parliament itself. What a fitting irony!

Let us be clear: so long as we maintain a section of our population, our friends, our family, our loved ones, and even our visitors in limited suspension, the disability and the shame of imposing it falls on us all. We will remain what we still are: a disabled society. Because, through its law, the community of Gibraltar is telling itself that it need not worry about making way for us; no one need change our lives of daily exclusion.

Our present red ink law is an international cause for shame. And at Equality Rights Group/Action on Poverty we fully intend to internationalize this unacceptable deprivation of our disabled citizens’ rights. Enough is enough. Our patience and our suffering cannot be currency for Administrations and politicians any longer.

Because the facts speak for themselves. Five years have passed without movement or progress. And until access and accessibility are firm rights in law, Gibraltar’s disability legislation cannot be considered done and dusted by those for whom it should have meaning, but for whom today it is devoid of sense.

On this day, therefore, I once again urge the public to support the less fortunate and vulnerable because disability can and all too often does happen to anybody and at any time, especially as we age. It is paramount that people’s safety and dignity be respected, not ignored.

Furthermore, it is also essential that a truly apolitical and fully independent Quality Care Commission be established to oversee the implementation of both the provisions of the Act and the operation of the care companies in Gibraltar. Only this way will we finally bring an end to the shambolic privatized care system we presently endure.

These are no mere words. They are lives that are hurt and limited.

Today in Gibraltar, for example, there is a severely disabled person who has been housebound for over six months simply because the wrong lifting aid was installed. He remains a prisoner of shameful neglect, unable to enjoy the smell of freedom of the fresh air and the open world outside; impeded from changing his circumstances because, as a disabled person (and no matter what politicians may claim) he has no effective rights. He continues to exist but is not able to live; not even a little.

We urge Government and Parliament to not allow themselves to be comfortable with things as they are. No innocent free citizen deserves a prison cell.

I urge us all to act today and support the UN International Day of Persons with Disability.


This article was published by the Gibraltar Chronicle as an Opinion on 3rd December 2022.