Government Action on Disability Policy
A Global Survey
Part II - Government Replies as Country Profiles
Download 'Government Reports on the UN Standard Rules' as a PDF file (440 KB)
© Dimitris Michailakis 1997
Transmitted by Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York (29 March 1996)
Compare with the following Country Report(s): ILSMH (Förbundet de Utvecklingsstördas Väl), ILSMH (Kehitysvammaisten Tukiliitto r.y.), RI, WBU
The officially recognized disability policy in Finland is expressed in law, in guidelines adopted by the National Disability Council and in policy adopted by political parties and non-Governmental organizations. The strongest emphasis in the disability policy - in descending scale - is on individual support; rehabilitation, anti-discrimination law; accessibility measures; prevention.
Since the adoption of the Standard Rules, the National Council on Disability in co-operation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has published an easy reader version of the Standard Rules, in Finnish and in Swedish.
The rights of persons with disabilities are protected by a combination of special and general legislation. The mechanisms which have been adopted for the protection of disabled persons' rights are both judicial - due process (legal remedy through courts) - and non-judicial, the latter including: an Ombudsman in Parliament and provincial Government and Ministries.
The general legislation applies to all categories of disabled persons with respect to: education, employment, the right to marriage, the right to parenthood/family, political rights, access to court-of-law, right to privacy, property rights. The following benefits are guaranteed by law to persons with disabilities: medical/health care, training, rehabilitation and counselling, financial security, independent living, and participation in decisions affecting them.
Since the adoption of the Standard Rules, the Constitution has been amended (1995). The Government states that the fundamental rights of the citizens then were renewed, including several new economic, social and cultural rights. The clause on equality was included in the Constitution Act (section 5 §2), whereby no-one, without any acceptable reason, shall be placed in a different position because of sex, ethnic origin, language, religion, conviction, state of health, disability or other comparable cause. Another clause was included (section 14 §3) under which persons using sign language and persons in need of interpretation and translation services due to disability will be protected by law.
There are laws and regulations to ensure accessibility in the build environment requiring that: schools, hospitals, clinics, community centres, rehabilitation centres, theatres, transportation terminals for trains and busses are made accessible. There are also design standards requiring that housing is made accessible. Accessibility of the build environment is observed by building boards in local Governments, the responsibility being shared between the constructor and the authorities, as well as between the providers of services and local communities. The following measures are taken by the Government to facilitate accessibility in the build environment: levelling off pavements (decisions are being made at municipal level), marking parking areas, installing or widening lifts and installing accessible toilets, ensuring access to public places, improving accessibility in housing, providing financial incentives for accessibility measures when building and renovating housing, providing financial support for the costs of adapting private buildings to the needs of persons with disabilities, installing special lighting for the visually impaired, using contrast colours for the visually impaired, and providing for specially adapted motor vehicles. These measures have been formulated in the National Building Code of Finland, providing regulations and guidelines for the planning and design of premises designated for public use to accommodate the physically handicapped. According to the law severely disabled persons are entitled to transport services for the following purposes: medical treatment, education, work and recreational purpose. Attitudinal factors and lack of user participation are the most difficult obstacles when planning to build accessible environments. There is a disability awareness component incorporated in the training of architects and construction engineers. However, it depends on the professors at the Architectural Universities if this awareness is being considered.
Sign language is used as the first language in education of deaf people and recognized as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others. There are recommendations made by a working group set up by the Ministry of Transport and Communication in order to encourage media to make their information services available to persons with disabilities. At present, news are daily presented in sign language and in text in TV. Measures to make other forms of public information services available are included in the recommendations made by the working group at the Ministry of Transport and Communication. The following services are provided in order to facilitate information and communication between persons with disabilities and other persons: literature in Braille/tape, sign language interpretation available for any purpose, easy readers for persons with mental disabilities, a project concerning newspapers in electronic form and videotapes on sign language.
Organizations of persons with disabilities
There is a national umbrella organization (The Agency for Co-operation of the Organizations of Disabled Persons) in which 33 organizations are represented. There are legal provisions mandating the representatives of persons with disabilities to participate in policy-making and to work with Governmental institutions. The National Council on Disability brings together functionaries and people from organizations of persons with disabilities. According to the Council better solutions can be reached by bringing together an expertise of disabled people and of the administration. When laws or regulations with a disability aspect are being prepared the views of the organizations of persons with disabilities are often taken into account. Consultations take place both at the national and local level. The Government financially supports existing or new organizations. Persons with disabilities participate to a very limited extent in Government and legislature and to a great extent in political parties and non-Governmental organizations. The organizations in Finland have the role to advocate rights and improved services, to mobilize disabled people, to identify needs and priorities, to participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of services and measures, to contribute in public awareness, and to provide services.
Co-ordination of work
There is a national co-ordinating committee reporting to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The committee includes representatives of seven Ministries, of organizations of disabled persons, as also from the National research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health and from the Finish Federation of Municipalities. The co-ordinating committee is expected to participate in policy development and to promote the participation of disabled persons in society and promote awareness in raising actions. According to the Finnish Government the co-ordinating committee has had the following effects: Improved co-ordination in the disability field, improved legislation and integration of responsibility, better dialogue in the disability field, more effective use of resources, improved promotion of public awareness.
The adoption of the Standard Rules has not led to a rethinking of the approach to disability policy, the guidelines in the Standard Rules being very similar to the guidelines of the Finnish disability policy. However, the UN's Standard Rules have helped the Government to focus on the areas needing attention. The National Disability Programme is based on the UN's Standard Rules.