DRD Kick-off meeting: the Nordic focus!

Disability Rights Defenders is in its third year now and in this current project period we put our focus on the Nordic countries. Therefore DRD held a kick-off meeting on the 5th of November, 14.00 - 17.00, to discuss the future development of the network and potential co-operations in the Nordic. The recording of the meeting can be found here.

Key speakers were Adolf Ratzka and Vibeke Melstrom who shared their point of view and vision as a basis for a discussion on what is needed and how the network should develop in general. Together with the 40 participants we discussed the Nordic focus, how and with whom to co-operate etc. To get some ideas we heard some voices from different Nordic countries about the situation and what is needed in their countries. The meeting was moderated by Jamie Bolling, director of ILI. 


14.00 - 14.10 Welcome, technical introduction and introduction on agenda
14.10 - 14.20 Selina Griesser (project leader DRD): Current state of the DRD network: what is DRD? What are our goals and how are we working?
14.20 - 14.40 Adolf Ratzka (founder and chair of the board of ILI) and  Vibeke Marøy Melstrøm (founder and general secretary of ULOBA - Independent Living Norway): Vision and thoughts on the future of DRD
14.40 - 15.10 Discussion: How should DRD develop and what is needed?
15.10 - 15.25 - Break -
15.25 -16.05 Nordic focus and cooperation: voices from different nordic countries
16.05 - 16.30 Discussion, comments and questions on the Nordic voices
16.30 - 16.55 Vision and milestones: What milestones could be defined for the network?
16.55 - 17.00  Closure: thanks and follow up 

The following report summarizes shortly the highlights of the DRD Kick-off meeting. Please feel free to add any comment by writing an email to drdn@independentliving.org. Thank you.
Attendees: 40 participants from different Nordic countries
Recording: https://youtu.be/durQV1Ho3fM

1. Current state of the DRD network: Selina Griesser (project leader DRD)

What is DRD?

  • a project of the Independent Living Institute, launched in May 2018 as a result of the international conference “Using he law as a tool for social change”
  • funded by ULOBA’s Bente Skansgårds Independent Living Fond until May 2021, part time position with 25%
  • network of individuals and organizations with an interest in disability rights and disability law
  • Vision: equal rights and access to justice for disabled people

Mission and strategy: 

  • promote and spread the IL Philosophy by means of strategic litigation and developing equal rights in protection practice for disabled people
  • build a global network of disabled people, disabled people’s organizations, lawyers and law schools for reciprocal empowerment in using the law as a tool to implement and defend the rights of disabled people
  • Raising awareness on discrimination towards people with disabilities and how to combat the discrimination
  • Share knowledge on what works in different countries and solving problems together that we face in different countries

What does DRD do?

  • collecting, sharing, spreading and deepening legal expertise about disability rights through: webinars on different topics, newsletter with court cases, resources, news etc. and a closed Facebook group
  • Bringing people together in webinars and the facebook group

What is the current state? 

  • Facebook group with about 2.300 members from over 100 countries
  • Newsletter four times a year to around 500 subscribers (around 20% from Nordic countries)
  • Webinars with up to 60 participants: Disability Rights Defenders Network, Law for Accessibility, Aging with Disabilities in the Community, Legal Clinics, Legal Remedies


  • heterogeneous group of members with different goals and perspectives causing unclarity 
  • large network with a broad range of expertise and knowledge that is not being shared or used 
  • risk of decreasing the quality of the network with people using the network for their own profit and the spreading of irrelevant information
    Question: How do we get the best out of the DRD network?

2. Vision and thoughts on the future of DRD

Adolf Ratzka (founder and chair of the board of ILI): 

  • in the Nordic countries there is no cultural tradition in strategic litigation; going to court still has a bad image
  • by using the law one can make a difference and change things for the better for everybody
  • problem is that the compensation for damages are very low, which makes it cheaper to pay compensation instead of changing a discriminatory situation
  • DRD should help to overcome the cultural resistance and spread the idea of using the law as a tool

Vibeke Marøy Melstrøm (founder and general secretary of ULOBA - Independent Living Norway): 

  • even though there are laws and treaties in all countries protecting the rights of disabled people, they get violated daily
  • we face similar challenges but there are different circumstances in different countries that require different strategies to achieve the same goals
  • we need to strengthen the Nordic network and collaborate as the Nordic countries have similar circumstances and challenges
  • DRD as a bank of knowledge, expertise and experience in use of law and tools for equality in Nordic countries.
  • a strategic planning committee is needed
  • Nordic countries should collaborate on common strategies regarding personal assistance in line with the IL-ideology and securing CRPD legal status
  • DRD should map the expertise of the network and share information among NGOs and civil society

3. Nordic voices on a Nordic focus and cooperation 

Susanne Berg (Sweden):

  • association ‘DRD Sweden’ helps people to take discrimination cases to court
  • DRD should help to create a network of organisations in the Nordic with focus on strategic litigation
  • DRD as a platform for joint projects
  • working together on similar cases, supporting each other in strengthening the argumentation in discrimination cases
  • Facebook group: more focus on exchanging experience in strategic litigation and argumentation in discrimination cases
  • work with the EU convention with focus on discrimination, information on the difference between discrimination and injustice

Berit Vegheim (Norway):

  • organisation ‘Stopp diskrimineringen
  • collaborations in the Nordic countries are needed
  • work together on reaching universal design as a legal standard
  • would be good to have an overview and comparison of the situation and law in the different Nordic countries

Kristina Dudonyte (Lithuania):

  • Lithuania faces similar problems as other countries: personal assistance, inclusive education, accessibility
  • organisations should cooperate more and exchange information
  • interest in personal assistance, easy to read language

Stig Langvad (Denmark):

  • DRD to gather and provide information on how to use the law for human rights in different countries
  • establish collaboration between organisations to ensure focus on human rights
  • DRD is not known in the Nordic countries yet

Jukka Kumpvuori (Finland):

  • DRD should focus on non-discrimination, not on social services
  • non-discrimination litigation is not far developed in the Nordic countries, exchanging knowledge on how to ake cases to court
  • problem: no compensation when cases are taken to the equality board, court cases are too expensive
  • Finland: case can be brought to equality board which decides if there was a discrimination. Case can then be taken to the police who will take the case further as a criminal case
  • DRD could help to build cases that could be brought to EU bodies together

Meelika Siilsalu (Estonia), translated by Mari Siilsalu:

  • Estonia as a small country with small organisations and similar problems
  • people are afraid of losing rights when demanding more rights 
  • anti-discrimination litigation is almost absent in Estonia
  • Estonian human rights centre has very little focus on disability rights
  • DRD could share knowledge on how to establish advocacy organisations

Anna Ida Hallgaard Jonsson (Greenland):

  • organisation ‘Tilioq’, under the Greenlandic government to raise awareness on disability rights but cannot take individual cases to court
  • there is no anti-discrimination law in Greenland
  • little focus on self advocacy in DPOs in Greenland
  • DRD can give inspiration on how to work for anti-discrimination and raising awarness on demanding rights
  • DRD can help to create a network that facilitates self advocacy

Rannveig Traustadóttir (Iceland):

  • not a good anti discrimination legislation in Iceland
  • national disability alliance ÖBI has lawyers who assist people to go to court to demand their rights
  • mixed success with cases, judges are not specialized in disability or human rights
  • would be good to have more legal clinics and organisations that are focused on demanding rights in court
  • a lot of activism was put in fighting for social services, activism fatigue in the fight against discrimination

4. Vision and milestones for DRD

  • find organisations in each Nordic country that are part of DRD
  • map the situation, law and practice concerning litigation for disability rights in the Nordic countries
  • set up a strategic planning committee that could road map and prioritize goals
  • test the European convention by collecting discrimination cases from each country, support each other in developing argumentation
  • Berit Vegheim (Stopp Diskrimineringen, Norway) offers to look at the anti-discrimination laws from different Nordic countries. So far we got the law texts from Sweden and Finland and the proposal for an act in Denmark (Danish). We also received a text from Slawek Besowski explaining the situation in Poland. Please share the English translations of the anti-discrimination act from your country with us (drdn@independentliving.org).


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