"Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me." (*)
I came to know Gordon in 2003 when he was invited to give a keynote address at an interfaith meeting which was being organised by the Kummissjoni Nazzjonali Persuni b'Diżabilità (KNPD) to commemorate the European Year of Persons with Disability. All of us were immediately impressed by his intellectual energy, his independence of mind and his ability to communicate clearly and memorably. Over the years we also came to appreciate Gordon’s impish sense of humour and his razor-sharp ripostes. No one was safe from his quick-fire remarks, least of all me.
Gordon soon became a regular fixture in KNPD activities: chairing workshops, giving public talks, appearing on radio and television shows, writing in the papers, then on the internet. Somehow he managed to deal with all these commitments, cope with a very severe physical impairment and still successfully read for a Masters in Disability Studies with the University of Leeds.
As an advocate for disability rights Gordon was a firm believer in the social model of disability. He never tried to negate or minimise the very real presence of biological impairments, but he recognised the fact that disabled people’s quality of life can only really improve if it is society that changes and not the individual.
Like many very severely disabled persons (myself included) Gordon had no time for self-styled, usually non-disabled, academics who argue that the social model of disability is an obsolete cliché. Maltese society, he maintained, needs to become more inclusive, more ‘user-friendly’ and to ensure that no one is excluded whatever their ability, or disability.
However, as Gordon would be quick to remind me, there was more to him than disability advocacy. Gordon bore the difficult circumstances of his life: his impairment and physical pain with great fortitude and humour. Like all of us he was sometimes subject to dark moments and did rebel under the injustices of life. We often ask ourselves ‘Why?’ and ‘Why me?’. Recently, Gordon was focusing more and more of his very limited energies on the larger issues of existence and Man’s place within creation. He was truly a man of very deep spirituality, on a perpetual search for true wisdom and serenity.
Gordon would be the first to acknowledge that his achievements were due not only to his own abilities and determination, but also to the support, encouragement and love given to him by his own family, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences and prayers for the repose of his soul. In many ways Gordon was very much like a younger brother to me. We shall all of us: family and friends, miss him terribly, but equally he will live on in the deep respect and affection we felt for him throughout his tragically short life. May he now rest in peace.
(*) William Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing (Act I, scene iii)
Mdina, 23 April 2014
Selected Publications by Gordon Cardona
‘Reclaiming the prize’: opinion piece on the ‘Prize for Kindness’ published in 2006:
The Department of Disability Studies organised the 5th Gordon Cardona Memorial Lecture – 'Disabled Women: At the Intersection of Disability and Sex' which was presented by Amy Camilleri-Zahra. The lecture took place on 30 April 2019. Download the presentation.
The Department of Disability Studies organised the 4th Gordon Cardona Memorial Lecture – ‘Home-grown Athletes and Beyond’ which was moderated by Dr Claire Azzopardi Lane and consisted of four presentations by athletes on Monday 23 April 2018, at the Old Humanities Building Room 105, University of Malta.
For this year’s lecture, we focused on home-grown athletes and their experiences. The presenters were:
Charmaine Mifsud who is a former Special Olympics swimming champion. She is currently experiencing inclusive sport through her participation in local swimming events.
Noel Aquilina who has moved on from hand-cycling and wheelchair racing to wheeelchair basketball setting up himself the first wheelchair basketball association in Malta. He also coaches a running basketball nursery.
George Vella who is a 4 times Deaflympian athlete and silver medallist in the European Deaf Marathon Championships. He is committed to overcome barriers in communication and most of all promote Equal Opportunities for Deaf Sports.
Gilmour Borg who is a 17 year old athlete and is currently Special Olympics' Ambassador for the Sport Integrity Global Alliance in its mission to promote integrity in sport.
The Department of Disability Studies organised the 3rd Gordon Cardona Memorial Lecture – ‘Disabled Children’s Stories: raising seldom heard voices’ by Dr Anne-Marie Callus and Ms Elvira Psaila on Monday 24 April 2015, at the Old Humanities Building Room 113, University of Malta.
For this year’s lecture, we focused on what disabled children have to say about their lives. Dr Anne-Marie Callus and Ms Elvira Psaila presented disabled children’s stories from the research literature, from case law, and most importantly directly from the voice of disabled children themselves.
The Department of Disability Studies organised the 2nd Gordon Cardona Memorial Lecture – ‘IN SEARCH OF AN OASIS: impaired bodies in a disabling society’ by Ms Vickie Gauci on Friday 22 April 2016, at the Faculty of ICT Auditorium.
'ZoneMind : Reaching within ... Grasping beyond' is a blog that Gordon Cardona kept between 2011 and 2014. This lecture was based on a selection of Gordon’s writings from his blog in which he reflected on the concepts of ‘change’ and ‘difference’ and how these marked his journey ‘in search of an oasis’. Through these writings, Gordon draws our attention to the debate concerning the body with impairment and the disabling society in which it is constrained to live: a body which is frequently changing and which is often viewed as different by the world around it. He therefore reflects on the physical and the political not as two distinct entities but as forming a dynamic interrelationship in which they mutually shape each other. Gordon's journey was marked with moments of deep insights on this relationship, revealing a mind that is constantly voyaging where the body cannot go, but which finally finds its oasis.
The Disability Studies Unit organised the 1st Gordon Cardona Memorial Lecture – ‘ON A PEAK IN DARIEN: understanding our past, challenging our future’ by Mr Joseph M Camilleri on Wednesday 22 April 2015, at the Faculty of ICT Auditorium.
Over the past thirty years the disability sector in Malta and Gozo has registered great progress in different areas. Locally, we have seen many advances in education, in the provision of goods and services, legally and in the area of accessibility. We have also seen a marked change in the mentality of the Maltese population from an entirely negative individual/ tragedy view of disability, to a more open and accepting attitude. This in turn is leading to more and more disabled people breaking free of the shackles of prejudice, low-expectations and limited life-choices which condemned previous generations of disabled people to a lifetime of financial and social poverty and a childish dependency on the goodwill of relatives and friends. But my concern is this: How much of this progress is real and how much of it imagined? How much is permanent and how much a temporary respite before we are forced to return to our disenfranchised past?
Mr Camilleri took a critical look at some of the important changes that have taken place in the disability sector and which he has witnessed and been actively involved in. He also identified some emerging disability issues and made a few recommendations based on six decades of experience as a disabled person and a disability activist whose primary concern has been, and will remain, that disabled people are in control of their own lives, make their own decisions and speak for themselves.