“Nordic and European countries need to work more closely together on disability issues, improve physical accessibility and involve people with disabilities in work to achieve this at all levels and in all of the countries,” said the chair of the Nordic Council Welfare Committee, Bente Stein Mathisen, at the seminar Cooperation on Disability at The Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU in Brussels. The seminar brought together key figures from international political councils, organisations and institutions to find common ground for Nordic/European co-operation on disability, for example by exchanging knowledge and information about best practice and the implementation of universal design. Demographics trends toward ageing populations mean that the need is definitely there.
Nordic and European countries need to work more closely together on disability issues, improve physical accessibility involve people with disabilities in work to achieve this at all levels and in all of the countries.
The arrow points both ways – the Nordic Region and Europe have much to learn from each other.
It was clear from discussions at the seminar that the issue of disability cuts across multiple areas – education, gender, digitalisation, mobility, access to social and health services, etc. – and it was agreed that both the Nordic Region and Europe have much to learn from each other. Discussions were also held about focusing on selected areas according to the mottos “less is more” and “nothing about us without us”. These discussions covered universal design, user involvement and accessibility, all in relation to Agenda 2030 and the UN Disability Convention.
User involvement at many levels
Several parties noted that user involvement on multiple levels is the key to success. One Nordic example of best practice is the Council of Nordic Cooperation on Disability, a 50/50 body made up of civil servants nominated by the national governments people and by organisations representing people with disabilities. The desire was also expressed to involve people with disabilities in the work of making polling stations more accessible and in encouraging more people with disabilities to join and represent political parties and interest groups. The idea is to provide a boost to users with disabilities as well as democracy in a wider sense, which Helga Stevens MEP welcomed. “I am the first deaf woman in the European Parliament, where there are very few MEPs with disabilities. But I hope this will change next year when we have new European elections.
“I am the first deaf woman in the European Parliament, where there are very few MEPs with disabilities. But I hope this will change after the new Euro elections next year.
From the left; Helga Stevens MEP, Steinun Þóra Árnadóttir of the Nordic Council and Bente Stein Mathisen President of the Nordic Council Welfare Committee.
Best in class
The former Icelandic Minister for Social Affairs Árni Páll Árnason has reviewed Nordic co-operation in the social sector in the report Knowledge that works in practice: Strengthening Nordic co-operation in the social field. He concludes that user involvement is one of the best aspects of Nordic work in this sphere and one of several tools that it is worth feeding into closer Nordic/European collaboration.
The Nordic countries have a long tradition of working together on disability issues
The Nordic Council of Ministers bases its work in this field on the Action Plan for Nordic Cooperation on Disability 2018–2022, which builds on a previous action plan. Three focus areas related to Agenda 2030 sets out the direction for the work: Human rights, sustainable development and freedom of movement: Human Rights Help the Nordic countries better implement and monitor the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Sustainable Development Use universal design to enhance inclusion, promote equality and combat discrimination against people with disabilities in all parts of Nordic society by integrating strategic thinking about the disability perspective into work on sustainable development.
Free mobility Promote free mobility and remove barriers to cross-border freedom of movement that affect people with disabilities in particular.