In Sweden, people with disabilities have the same right to an independent life as everyone else. Photo: Handikappförbunden
In 2011, the Swedish Government launched a new strategy to guide its disability policy for the period leading up to 2016. The aim is to give people with disabilities a greater chance of participating in society on the same terms as others. Ten priority areas have been identified, three of which are given special attention: the justice system, transportation and IT.
The justice system
All citizens should feel that laws are reasonable and relevant, that the justice system is there for them, and that it is effective and ensures compliance with their legal rights. Accordingly, police authorities must analyze their operations from a disability perspective. In 2010, the Swedish Prosecution Authority initiated a project to assess how it disseminates information to crime victims with disabilities and how they may absorb such information. In 2012, the Swedish National Courts Administration will develop an action plan for making Swedish courts more accessible.
Having the possibility to travel without hindrance is of vital importance to people with disabilities. All citizens must be able to work, study and take part in community activities on equal terms.
To this end, the Swedish Government has instructed the country’s municipalities to initiate moves to make facilities such as bus and tram stops more accessible, and it is also reviewing The Disability and Public Transportation Act. In addition, it is planning to introduce a new law, establishing the rights of travelers using local and regional public transport.
The public sector is using the internet as an information channel to an increasing extent. New IT tools may give people with disabilities a greater degree of independence. Special emphasis is therefore being placed on digital inclusion in Sweden’s national IT strategy.
The Education Act states that children in need of special assistance at school should be provided with it. Photo: Bildarkivet.se
The aim: equal opportunities
General inaccessibility means that people with functional disabilities do not have the same opportunities as others to participate in community life. The Swedish Government is working to overcome this problem in various ways.
In Sweden, there is social welfare for all, but there are also special programs designed to address the needs of people with disabilities. One important feature of the Act concerning Support and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments (LSS) gives disabled people the right to personal assistance, in principle free of charge. The amount of help they receive is determined by the extent of their disabilities.
Modification to housing
People with disabilities can apply for municipal grants so they can have their accommodation modified. This may involve having doorsteps removed, support rails mounted, doorways widened, automatic door openers fitted, or special elevators installed. Such grants cover all types of disabilities, including mobility disability, impaired vision, mental disorders and allergies. The first such grant was made available on a trial basis in 1959, and was introduced formally in 1963.
Anyone in need of extra support may live in group housing, where staff provide 24-hour assistance. Group housing usually comprises a number of apartments with a range of common amenities. Another alternative is the serviced apartment; people can live completely independently but are able to call for assistance at any time. The family home is another option, enabling children with functional disabilities to live with a family other than their own during certain periods.
People who have great difficulty traveling or using public transportation can receive a car subsidy from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. They might be in pain, or have breathing difficulties, reduced mobility or a poor sense of balance. Parents of children with functional impairments may also apply for a car allowance.
Funding for job hunting
The state is responsible for helping people to find and keep jobs through its labor market agencies. Employers who hire people whose work capacity is limited are sometimes entitled to wage subsidies. The state-owned services and goods provider Samhall offers people with disabilities meaningful employment that furthers their personal development. People with disabilities can also receive various types of financial assistance from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.
Stockholm has become more accessible over the past decade.
Photo: Melker Dahlstrand
Stockholm for everyone
Stockholm City Council has significantly improved accessibility in the capital. For example:
- Some 5,200 pedestrian crossings have been converted to follow the established Stockholm model – a solution that includes a ticking sound when the lights turn green, contrast markings and a distinct curb showing where the roadway begins, plus a ramp enabling people in wheelchairs to access the walkway easily.
- About 10,300 deep cross-pavement drainage channels have been replaced with new, shallow, rounded ones.
- Now, 80 or more sports facilities benefit from improved accessibility thanks to their collaboration with Stockholm City’s Sports Administration.
- About 360 bus stops have been modified by raising the curb height to facilitate boarding and alighting.
Disability movement a vital force
Swedish organizations for people with disabilities have been influencing policymaking for over 50 years. Most of these organizations belong to the Swedish Disability Federation, an umbrella body designed to influence official policy. The Federation is an active member of the European Disability Forum (EDF), an independent NGO that represents the interests of 80 million Europeans with disabilities.
The organizations help shape public opinion by presenting their members’ demands and proposing improvements. In 2011, about 60 organizations for people with disabilities received state grants amounting to more than SEK 182 million (EUR 20.2 million/ USD 25.4 million) to help them pursue their activities. Most are organized on the basis of their members’ disabilities. Many have special youth sections, and some focus specifically on children and families.
Laws against discrimination
The Act concerning Support and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments (LSS) was enforced in 1994. It is a human-rights law designed to offer people with extensive disabilities greater opportunities to lead independent lives, and to ensure that they have equal living conditions and enjoy full participation in community life. It can offer support in the form of personal assistance in everyday life, counseling, housing with special services, or assistance for parents whose children have disabilities. As its name indicates, the Act applies only to certain groups of disabled people. People not covered by it can seek assistance from their municipality under the Social Services Act. This and the Planning and Building Act are examples of laws containing clauses that apply specifically to disabled people.
In 2009, The Discrimination Act was introduced in Sweden, its general purpose being to strengthen the legal protection of the individual and to help victims of discrimination obtain redress and financial compensation.
The Act combats discrimination on the grounds of gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other beliefs, disability, sexual orientation or age, and is divided into two parts. The proactive part of the law imposes a duty to take positive action and concerns working life and the educational system. The reactive part of the law deals with the prohibition of discrimination in working life, in the educational system and in other areas of society.
The Equality Ombudsman (DO) monitors compliance with these laws.
The UN’s Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities is a cornerstone of Swedish disability policy. The Swedish Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Unlike the Standard Rules, the Convention is legally binding. As a result, Sweden has committed to ensuring that national legislation does not discriminate against people with disabilities.
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