The Nordic Committee on Disability: Existing legislation in the Nordic countries

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991

Contents


The Nordic Committee on Disability:
Existing legislation in the Nordic countries

Clas Thorén, Nordiska Nämnden för Handikappfrågor, Sweden


The Nordic Committee on Disability, for whom I work, is a cooperation body under the Nordic Council of Ministers. One basis for the Committee is the fact that the policies in the Nordic countries concerning disabled people have many characteristics in common, different from many other countries. Let me just mention the most obvious, the general tax-financed welfare system, compared to many other countries where social insurances are connected to employment. One of the tasks of the Committee is to work for improved accessibility in society for persons with disabilities. As a part of this task, a preliminary study of how accessibility in the built environment and transportation is regulated in the Nordic countries was carried out during winter of 1991. The underlying question for the study was, "Are there any fields within the built environment and transportation, where Nordic cooperation is desirable and appropriate in order to improve accessibility?" 
Accessibility can be regulated in several forms:

  • laws, which in the Nordic countries are made by the Parliament
  • mandatory regulations, made by government authorities, and which specify the laws
  • recommendations or guidelines, made by authorities or organizations
  • standards

The object of the study was divided into six fields:

1. Dwellings
2. Public governmental buildings, such as hospitals, post offices, schools, etc.
3. Public private buildings, such as shops, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, banks, sports grounds, etc.
4. Transportation terminals, e.g. airports, bus stops, railway stations,
5. Public vehicles, e.g. buses, commuter trains, intercity trains, etc.
6. Outdoor environment: stairs, footpaths, traffic lights, signposts, etc.
The first part of the study was an investigation of current regulation in the Nordic Countries. The following three questions were asked for every one of the six fields:1. Does the law state explicitly that this field should be accessible for persons with disabilities?

2. Are there any binding regulations, made by government authorities, that specify more precisely the interpretation of the concept of accessibility?

3. Are there any advisory guidelines with user requirements, expressed in terms of functions and performance, or technical specification?

The answers are on the following table.
    Denmark Finland Iceland Norway Sweden
Dwellings Law
Regulation
Guidelines
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
N
Partly
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Public Gov. Buildings Law
Regulation
Guidelines
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Public Private Buildings Law
Regulation
Guidelines
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Public Vehicles Law
Regulation
Guidelines
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Transportation Terminals Law
Regulation
Guidelines
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
Partly
Y
Y
Y
Y
Outdoor Environment Law
Regulation
Guidelines
N
N
Y
N
Partly
Y
N
N
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y


The table indicates that there is sufficient knowledge about how an accessible environment is to be designed. It can, however, be questioned whether hearing and cognitive impaired people have been adequately considered. Even if there are different opinions in details between the guidelines, the problem is not lack of knowledge. The problem is that the guidelines are not complied with; why? Some possible explanations are:

  • ignorance and lack of awareness,
  • technical and economic obstacles,
  • decision-makers and industry do not give priority to accessibility, for example because persons with disabilities are too small a market. Accessibility is not regarded as big business, it is not even regarded as small business.
  • the laws are too weak. There is no penalty for not complying with the regulations.

Accessibility legislation in the Nordic countries concerning, for example, design of buildings will be highly affected by EC directives and European official standards.

Denmark is a member of the European Community while the other Nordic countries are members of EFTA. An agreement between the EC and EFTA, becoming operative from January 1, 1993, is anticipated. Roughly, this means that the single market of the EC will be extended to the EFTA countries. As a consequence of this agreement, the Nordic EFTA countries have to adapt their concerned regulations to the corresponding regulations of the EC. The regulations in the EC countries are to a great extent determined by EC Directives and standards established by the European Standards bodies CEN/CENELEC and ETSI. 

Building norms in the Nordic countries are adapted to the Nordic climate, culture and tradition and Nordic way of living which, to some extent differs from other countries. It is therefore of vital interest that the principles laid down in the regulations be preserved within the framework of the anticipated harmonization of the regulations in the EC and EFTA countries. From a Nordic point of view joint influence on EC Directives and standards is of great importance.

In the World Program of Action concerning Disabled Persons, the United Nations state that public entities, non-governmental organizations, companies and individuals who operate services for the public, should make that service accessible for persons with disabilities. This is implemented fully in the United States by the ADA. If to this principle it is added that adaptation cost should be financed in the same way as other aspects of the service, the result is literally translated - in Swedish - as the principle of responsibility and financing. This principle is recognized in Sweden and Denmark and partly in the other Nordic countries. It is, however, not sufficiently known and applied.

Referring to the study and its proposals, a number of measures can be taken to improve the accessibility of the built environment, such as:

  • Inform the market that disabled people are not a separate group. Rather, disability should be regarded as a temporary or permanent limitation of a person's functions, congenital or acquired. Anyone could be affected by a disability during some period in their lifetime. Consequently, accessibility improvements are beneficial to everyone.
  • accessibility should be included in the education of architects and building engineers.
  • make economic incentives, e.g. make accessibility a condition for favorable bank loans.
  • coordination of Nordic specifications of accessibility characteristics of construction products, as a basis for participation in European and international standardization.
  • coordination of Nordic functional requirements regarding the design and space of buildings, as a basis for influencing European harmonization work.
  • more stringent legislation, e.g. penalty for not complying with the law. This implies that it is always made fully clear who is responsible for making the building accessible. In other words, the principle of responsibility and financing should gain increased momentum.

Regarding the outdoor environment, the situation is similar to what I said about buildings; there is sufficient knowledge which, however, is not sufficiently applied, for similar reasons. The ways of improvement are roughly the same. The design of the outdoor environment is, however, a concern for the municipalities and depends very much on the local situation. The possibilities of Nordic co-operation is much smaller than for buildings and transportation. The study was discussed in April 1991 by the board of the Nordic Committee on Disability and the following agenda was decided:

  • Proposal of how a systematic Nordic influence on EC directives can be made.
  • A more accurate analysis of the effects of the current accessibility legislation in the Nordic countries.
  • Identify the fields where common Nordic functional requirements are most important, taking into account present and planned action within the EC.

 

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