National report on Finnish access legislation

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



National report on Finnish access legislation

Marttiina Fränti, Chief Architect, Ministry of the Environment, Finland
Maija Könkkölä, Architect, National Association of the Disabled, Finland

The access norms are based on the performance criteria expressed since 1973 in statute 85a of the Building Decree, amended in 1990, concerning public administration and service buildings as well as private business and service facilities. The Building Norm on Accessibility, code F1, first included in 1978 in the National Building Code of Finland and amended in 1985, consists of regulations in the form of performance criteria, and also of guidelines with detailed numerical measures on accessibility.

Only the building regulations in the norms of the Code are binding, the guidelines are recommendations on possible good solutions.

There is an enforcement mechanism at the municipal level. The municipal building authority, the building committee, is responsible for applying any norm when granting building permits. According to a new statute in the Planning and Building Act, enacted in 1990, the builder and the developer are also responsible for fulfilling the norms. The Act serves as a source to the local authority in enforcing access statute 85a and building regulations on accessibility. Only the body or individual, whose project the building permit concerns, and the neighbor of this future or existing building, can appeal to the County Administrative Court if discontented with a decision made by the building committee. However, a disabled individual, who is neither the applicant of a building permit nor the neighbor of someone who is, has the possibility to complain to the Attorney General. During the 1980s, disabled communities and individuals have, in some cases, used this way of complaining about the disregard of statutes and norms by local building authorities.

Types of disabilities are expressed in the statute referring to "Individuals whose ability to move around, or to be active, or to orientate themselves is restricted due to age, disability or illness ". The definitions based on this statute 85a include access to the structure from the street and access within the structure, including toilets.

Access legislation refers to new buildings but must also be considered for application in existing buildings under renovation or restructuring.

Enforcement does not depend on the size of the structure in question, but only on the type and use of the building itself. The structure should be open to the public in general, or owned or administered by a public body, state, municipality, church etc.

The requirement of elevators is based on performance criteria in the building regulations of the Code. Complaints to the Attorney General have shown that these criteria are insufficient. Almost in all cases the cause of the complaint has been the lack of an elevator. The guidelines give a difference in elevation of two or more storeys when an elevator is needed. The minimum size for a personal elevator is 110 cm x 140 cm. The elevation differences as described in the guidelines ought to be made a binding regulation to enforce the installation of elevators in public buildings and business facilities.

In newly built structures, there remain areas without access such as, storage rooms, technical machinery rooms, etc. In existing buildings, for which a building permit is needed for reconstruction work, applying the legislation depends upon the existing building itself, considering its future use. If existing architectural barriers can be technically removed, doors will be widened and ramps and elevators will be installed, regardless of costs. Rare cases, in which the historical nature of a building prevents the remodelling of its main facade and if because of that, access for disabled persons through the main entrance cannot be provided, other entrances are to be made accessible. Nowadays, access is also often voluntarily planned by the property owner.

Access legislation refers to public buildings which includes: municipal and governmental office buildings; schools and universities; social or medical facilities; cultural and religious premises; recreational and sports facilities; public transport terminals; and train, bus and subway stations. In these buildings both visitors and internal working staff benefit from this accessibility. In the private building sector the statute concerns businesses or services open to the public so that everyone has to have the possibility to enter. This legislation refers to shops, markets, hotels, restaurants, etc. The building legislation only refers to those structures to be constructed or renovated and the area immediately outside. The legislation does not refer to public outdoor areas such as parks, streets, etc. except when a public building is to be built in those areas.

Access legislation does not include private workplaces or residential buildings. The subject has been lobbied but the initiative has not yet reached the stage of preparing a statute. There is no legislation, enforcing accessibility to vehicles used in public transport. The cities of Helsinki and Tampere are experimenting with low-floor buses and streetcars for public use. The Helsinki subway was originally planned for and has accomplished accessibility. The Finnish State Railways are developing a new railway wagon accessible for people with disabilities. Ferries sailing between Finland and Sweden are accessible.

Awareness of access regulations is spread through trade journals, and courses and seminars attended by planners, building authorities and disabled consumers. Training is voluntary and courses are organized mainly by local organizations of disabled persons.

In the future, the access norms will be accompanied by a separate publication of good examples of accessibility in renovated existing public buildings. The publication has been prepared by the National Association of the Disabled and will be published in 1991-92.

The interests of disabled and old persons in bringing about access legislation are represented by organizations of disabled people, organizations for disabled people, by disabled individuals and also by the government social authorities. These parties are involved in lobbying and formulating draft proposals on access legislation. The National Association of the Disabled prepares technical papers for improving the building norms on accessibility required by the Ministry of the Environment.

The National Council on Disability, a special body of disabled people's organizations and government officials has existed since the mid-1980s. The Council takes initiatives on any legislation to improve the situation of disabled persons.

The initiative on access legislation was due to the results of a working group of the Nordic Ministers Council in the beginning of the 1970s. At the same time, the organizations of disabled persons in Finland became active in this matter. The already existing building statute of Sweden on accessibility served as a model for the Finish governmental agency in preparing the first statute 85a in 1973.


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