Disability Rights Defenders (DRD) / ‘IL Nordic Network’ is a network started on the 30th of May 2018 by the Independent Living Institute (ILI). This report is on the project funded by the Bente Skansgård IL Fund between June 2018 to May 2019 which was carried out to continue the development of the network. The main result of the project during this year was the successful building of the network. After starting from scratch in June 2018 the network counts a total of 408 members from 80 countries at the end of May 2019. During the year through the medium of Facebook over 200 posts were made by members of the network. In two newsletters we shared 12 court cases from 9 countries. In May 2019, 16 participants joined the webinar on how to use the law as a tool. With hope to widen the network with work being carried out in other Nordic countries as well as in the south, grant applications were sent to Forum Syd and the Nordic Welfare Centre. Unfortunately without a positive result.
At the founding session of the DRD Network a strategic planning committee was elected to develop the network. The committee consisted of Jamie Bolling - Independent Living Institute, Adolf Ratzka - Independent Living Institute and Vibeke Melroy Melström - ULOBA. Besides the strategic planning committee Adolf Ratzka has the position of an advisor and co-editor of the newsletter and Selina Griesser works as the researcher and co- editor for DRD newsletter. Linda Robertsson is in charge of the administration and economy and Philip Day works with the communication technical issues. Ola Linder advises the project members concerning legal questions. At the founding session a closed Facebook group was created, where members of the network can interact and support each other. Administrators of the Facebook group are: Selina Griesser, Adolf Ratzka, Ola Linder, Emil Erdtman, Jamie Bolling and Jukka Kumpuvuori.
Below you will find a more detailed description of activities carried out through the year which include: moderating the Facebook group, collecting and editing the newsletters and organizing webinars. DRD researched court cases to build a database of cases on disability-based discrimination. Furthermore, contact details of individuals and organizations were collected to widen the network. ILI held several study visits during the year where DRDN was introduced. You find as well, a background to why the network is needed and what goals it has.
Background to the Disability Rights Defenders Network:
Despite Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) the right to live independently has nowhere been fully implemented. Even though most countries have ratified the CRPD, people with extensive disability still have to live in parental homes or institutions and cannot determine their daily lives.
The goal of DRD is to spread and deepen legal expertise to defend disabled people’s rights and to empower disabled people and their organizations to take cases to court. DRD raises awareness about the right-based perspective on disability and builds capacity on how to use the law as a tool. The project enables disabled people, disabled people’s organizations, law students, their instructors, lawyers, disability rights advocates and activists to interact, consult, meet and support each other.
To reach the goals DRD is strengthening the network of individuals and organizations with an interest in disability rights and disability laws. The members of the network share their expertise, advice, experiences and methods in the closed Facebook group ‘Disability Rights Defenders (The Law as a Tool)’. Content and resources from the discussion on Facebook are summarized in a newsletter a few times a year. Furthermore, we offer webinars open to anybody on how to use the law as a tool for social change.
Social media as a tool
The closed Facebook group ‘Disability Rights Defenders (The Law as a Tool)’ links the target groups and allows members of the network to share their advice and experiences. It is a place where people with different expertise get in touch and support each other and discuss developments in the field of disability rights. Anybody can join the group by sending a membership request to the administrators of the Facebook group.
Since the founding session the group has grown fast. By May 2019, the Facebook group had grown to 408 members of which 237 were active members, i.e. members who viewed, posted, commented on or reacted to group content. During June 2018 to May 2019 there were 233 posts, 288 comments and 1,226 reactions from members in the Facebook group.
The posts include announcements of conferences and training opportunities, links to useful resources like reports or studies, questions from members, cases and court decisions, job adverts and funding possibilities.
Newsletters to spread information
Our newsletters summarize the important content of the Facebook group to inform and contact members who are not active on Facebook. During the period covered by the Annual Report, two newsletters were issued to 343 subscribers and published on the English website of ILI. Newsletters are structured by different topics with information about cases and court decisions on the rights of disabled people. Also, the newsletter shares resources like reports or guidebooks, announcements of events and seminars as well as news from around the world including opportunities for training, meetings and getting actively involved.
Webinars to increase capacity
The webinars aim to raise awareness about the work of the DRD Network and to facilitate the sharing of information and experiences among disabled people, DPOs, lawyers, law professors, law students and others. Webinars are a further possibility for interested people to share what they know and to learn how to use the law in combating disability-based discrimination.
The first webinar took place on 20 May 2019 and was organized by ILI in cooperation with the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL). It introduced and presented the work of the DRD Network. The webinar was opened by Jamie Bolling, Director of ILI and Board member of ENIL. She welcomed the 16 participants and moderated the webinar. Adolf Ratzka, the founder of ILI, presented DRD and its work. He spoke about problems faced by disabled people and how strategic litigation can be a useful method to fight against violations of disabled people’s rights. Ola Linder, ILI’s lawyer, presented the project ‘The Law as a Tool’ that was inspired by the notion that laws do not implement and enforce themselves. Laws have no effect unless they are used. By providing general legal advice and counseling, the project has motivated a number of persons with disabilities to claim their rights in court. Mari Siilsalu, law student and board member of the membership association ‘The Law as a Tool’, introduced the association and its work. The association aims to establish and strengthen the disability rights litigation culture in Sweden. The last speaker of this first webinar was Eugenia Runeberg, lawyer at DHR, a Swedish organization of persons with physical disabilities. She presented a case that was brought to court by DHR on accessible transport. This first webinar was a success and showed that webinars are a suitable method to share information and interact with network members. However, better technical equipment was found necessary to be able to use this method in a more effective way and was bought. The new equipment should improve the webinars and make them more accessible.
Building of databases
DRD has collected summaries of court decisions and cases within the field of disability rights. A database has been compiled, which in future can be used by members of the network as a tool to find relevant cases. Within the database cases can be searched by year, country or the specific article of the CRPD which is relevant for the case.
Besides the database of cases DRD has compiled a database with Human Rights Organizations, Disabled People’s Organizations and groups active and with expertise in disability laws and rights. This database provides a basis to widen and strengthen the network.
During the year ILI has held several study visits from around the world. The guests from Japan, Sweden, Belgium, Korea, Italy, Zimbabwe and Switzerland were introduced to the DRD work. In discussions with the international guests it was possible to widen the network and spread the understanding of the necessity to strengthen civil society’s legal defense.
Since the start of the project in the end of May 2018, DRD has grown to an active network. DRD has spread and deepened legal expertise among its members through the Facebook group, newsletters and the webinar. DRD is looking forward to the continuation of this work and the growth of the network. Besides the ongoing activities DRD will extend and improve the databases. Furthermore, several webinars are planned as well as a network meeting to be held in May 2020 in Turku in cooperation with the Law Firm Kumpuvuori to strengthen the network in the Nordic countries.