Disability policy programme involves all administrative sectors

12.10.2009 6.21
News item N5-50889
The government disability policy programme, Vampo, is a strategy for the coming period designed to implement policy decisions concerning people with disabilities in Finland. The programme involves a wide range of measures to promote the equality and non-discrimination of people with disabilities.
"The MSAH is responsible for preparing the programme, but this work also involves all sectors that have an influence on disability issues", says MSAH ministerial adviser Aini Kimpimäki, who is one of the secretaries of the steering group responsible for the policy programme.

"The input of administrative sectors in preparing Vampo is as important as the policy programme's outcome."

In 2006 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Finland is preparing to ratify the agreement, and the preparation of the disability policy simultaneously puts the UN Convention into practice.

The policy programme also includes the starting points of a number of other disability policy initiatives, contained in a government report on disability policy, the current government programme, the Council of Europe's action plan on disability and the EU's draft equal treatment directive.

Work for the policy programme has included regional preparatory events arranged by the MSAH, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the State Provincial Offices. These have brought together various actors who influence disability matters, from municipal councils to taxi firms running disability transport services.

"These preparatory events brought the message concerning the principles of disability policy to regional actors. They also sought to collect regional viewpoints that otherwise could not have been able to take into account in preparing the policy programme", says Kimpimäki.

MSAH faces challenge to safeguard independent living

The issues to be included in the Vampo disability policy programme are analysed and prepared by thematic meetings, seminars and other events arranged by each administrative sector. The content of the policy programme is structured around a number of key themes. They include independent living, transport services, training, culture and recreation, the built environment, social protection, preventing discrimination, health and rehabilitation, participation in working life and society, safety and inviolability, information and communication technology, collecting data, statistics and research.

"It's a vast area - life from cradle to grave, and all the administrative sectors involved. Not all the content areas concern all people with disabilities, but all issues have to be considered in order that all their needs are taken into account", says Kimpimäki.

One of the challenges facing the MSAH is to ensure that people with disabilities can live independently. Disability services, independent housing and mobility occupy key roles in this. The main issue concerning social protection is to harmonise pensions and earnings so that it supports the employment of people with disabilities.

"People with disabilities have the right to work", Kimpimäki points out.

Exposing indirect discrimination

Kimpimäki says that her own input into the policy programme concerns preventing discrimination.

"We have to consider how we can have an effect on attitudes so that people relate to people with disabilities equally in all matters. When there's the will and the right approach, you can overcome the obstacles.
"There's indirect discrimination, which we're so used to that we don't notice. The needs of people with disabilities are invalidated. It is all too easy to think that they do not need to have all the things that the rest of us do. It's left up to people with disabilities to arrange their own affairs. For instance, if a person with a disability is unable to get somewhere, the cause is put down to his or her disability, not to the fact that barrier-free access has not been assured. One of the crucial aims of the disability policy is to expose this.

"In this tight economic climate each administrative sector is extremely cautious about being responsible for activities that incur expense. Nevertheless, the disability policy programme has raised all the developmental and reform needs in all matters of disability. If there's an expensive or hard to attain service or activity that is important for people with disabilities, it will not be excluded on those grounds."

Targets for the government

The disability policy programme is to be compiled by 3 December, the UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and will be finalised by the end of March next year. The Minister of Health and Social Services will then table it for policy debate.

"At present the main developmental challenges of the disability policy are being brought together, but there are new ones coming up continually", says Kimpimäki.

"Today's more complex and organised world places more demands on people to be more adept. This can strengthen, but also weaken, the ability of some people with disabilities to cope. People with disabilities are always to some extent dependent on others. Society's emphasis on performing independently can lead to people with disabilities being belittled."

Merja Moilanen
Translated Mark Waller