Rede des stellvertretenden Vorsitzenden der Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Hilfe für Behinderte e.V.
(BAGH) auf einem Seminar in Athen im November 1996.
"Full participation and equality is not merely a motto, it is an ongoing process of the work of our organisations and the fruitful co-operation with governmental bodies."
Ein echter Diplomat der Verbände eben.
Konferenz "Accessibility to Cultural Venues", Athen
Ingolf Österwitz (?), 10. November 1996
From Recommendations to Regulations
Paper presented at the Athens seminar "Elimination of Architectural Barriers in Cultural Venues" to be held in Athens from 12-17/11/96
At first I want to thank you that I can be here with you today. Athens is and has been historically very important and for this reason I think it is necessary to talk about the accessibility to historical places. I would like to thank you for the possibility to do this.
I hope that an impulse comes forward from this conference that will have effect on other European region as well. That is of advantage for all people with special needs regarding accessibility.
I speak from the perspective of a disabled person. Therefore all that I have to contribute is based on subjective experience and objective facts.
The World Action Program of the United Nations, dated December 3rd 1983, it states in §§ 112 and following that all member states should provide the accessibility to public buildings, cultural venues as well as to the whole built environment. That has been 13 years ago. There are many similar documents on national and European level. HELIOS working groups too, have worked out recommendations that can be applied. And what is best: technical experts, architects, designers and others working in this field have found solutions that can be brought to reality tomorrow. In other words the software is already available. Unfortunately there is no evidence of how far the recommendations have been put into practice.
My very personal opinion is that there is only little progress. The call has not reached the ones in political responsibility, although they have signed the program.
A short example: There is no movie in my hometown that I can access by myself. I need assistance to overcome barriers. In other cities you are confronted with similar problems. Other disabled persons as well as I myself have experienced the same in other countries. Therefore the facts are reliable on a high degree.
In the USA and Canada for example there have been antidiscrimination laws for a long time and that ist why the accessibility to public buildings and cultural events has improved.
The different developments in different countries are based on the fact that international recommendations have found their way into laws that provide the accessibility to the built environment. Yet, in many other countries there are only the recommendations and no visible facts.
Recommendations are preliminary steps to legal regulations, they are to be seen as action plans for those who conclude the laws. This point makes it clear that the planning of an accessible environment has become a problem on a political level that we have to be aware of.
You may all know the document on A coherent policy for people with disabilities, published by the Council of Europe in 1992. In chapter VIII 'Social Integration and Environment' measures to promote public awareness and dissemination of knowledge with regard to accessibility are pointed out. These measures should be focused on all groups involved in achieving accessibility during the building process.
Regulations governing the construction of dwellings, public buildings, tourist and leisure establishments, sports facilities and installations used by the public, should include basic standards for access. Public grants are available when these standards are fulfilled. Similarly, regulations should be introduced concerning historical or simply old buildings.
Apparently many documents written at different times show the same contents. If this means that this phenomenon will lead to obliging regulations then the goal is reached. I fear that this will not happen in the near future. As we all experience in our daily life, accessibility is rather the exception than the rule.
The conclusion has to be drawn out of this that it is not enough to only have recommendations to set the changes needed. Obligatory regulations to secure access is urgently required.
Let me state another example: Since 1978 Sweden has a law by which every apartment granted by public means has to meet the standards of access. After a few years of working with this law so many apartments and private houses met these requirements. Thus no one had to ask for special apartments to be built. Also the experience made with the ADA, which point into the same direction shows that there have to be obliging regulations for new buildings as well as for the ones already built. If the regulations are not met with a certain period of time drastic fines have to be paid. They go as far as to closing down the institution. Everyone of you who has been to the States before knows how effective the changes are. These examples show the different effects of recommendations and regulations.
The efforts of organisations of the disabled, of planners and others responsible in this field, have to be much more directed to develop strategies for the implementations of legal standards providing access. Also the disabled as individual experts must be involved in this process.
Strategies... ... consist of numerous single activities which are linked together to achieve a goal defined before. Within our field the goals are clearly defined but the activities leading to them are not. Also there have to be resources available. Such a strategy has been developed by the Finnish disability movement. In the report on Opportunities and Responsibilities for Innovations by Maija Könkkölä at the symposium on Disability Rights England 1995 an excellent strategic example is given how improvements and implementation can be made by organisations of the disabled in collaboration with other groups. I will follow her studies, because all the activities have been very successful and the example Finland is very encouraging. One of the highlights in their work is a total access to the subway in Helsinki.
Up to the 1970's, the yardstick for planning was given by the measures and abilities of an adult male. Gradually, other factors began to play a role in the debate: the needs of disabled people, the woman's viewpoint, and ecological issues.
In 1973, a clause was added to the Finnish Building Decree that stipulated, for the first time, that planning should also give adequate consideration to the needs of people with special needs. In 1978, a group of associations of disabled people lodged an official complaint with the Chancellor of Justice, regarding the absence of any elevator/lift in the town hall of Kauniainen (a small town near Helsinki); this complaint resulted in an acknowledgement of the need for a lift in public buildings even if they only have two floors/storeys, and provisions and guidelines to this effect were incorporated in the relevant legislation.
Gradually, the effect of the decree began to be seen in new buildings.
The general public increasingly began to appreciate the value of unimpeded access for all citizens, and in 1985 the Ministry of the Environment, which was also responsible for matters regarding building, issued new and stricter provisions and guidelines, although the decree itself remained unchanged.
At the end of the 1970's, associations of disabled people had begun to publish information dealing with the accessibility needs of various disability groups. In 1976-77 a survey was carried out on accessibility barriers in the outside environment and how they could be removed. As a follow-up to this study of people's living environment, three associations jointly founded a central association called the Disabled Persons Planning Service, in order to continue the work.
- the Cerebral Palsy Association of Finland,
- the National Association of the Disabled,
This Planning Service supported surveys of accessibility barriers in more than a hundred municipalities during the next few years. The media were actively involved, and at the local level co-operation strengthened between different disabled groups. Disabled people themselves became more active, and many entered local or even national politics. Attitudes in society slowly changed, as disabled people played a more visible role in public life. In 1990 the time was at last ready for a reform of the Buildings Decree, so that instead of referring to 'adequate consideration' the needs of the disabled it now spoke of premises to which everyone had an equal right of access. However, this clause was interpreted to mean that only apartment blocks of four storeys or higher must have a lift. Before the final decision, this interpretation was opposed by the Association of Finnish Local Authorities and various associations of the elderly, children's rights and the disabled, who submitted an official objection to the Minister of Housing, but to no avail. The associations unanimous proposed that the clause should include a clear requirement of complete freedom of access.
- and the Finnish Central Association of the Visually Handicapped
Furthermore, it is encouraging to note that in municipalities where disabled people have been active public opinion has become more understanding, a number of wise and far- reaching decisions have been made that all citizens benefit from. Helsinki has decided to build municipal four-storey apartment blocks that have lifts, and to stop building three-storey blocks that have no lifts. This was an unanimous decision by the municipal government. The city council also decided that all public transport should provided free accessibility.
All in all, the changes that have taken place over the past decades, indicate that some progress has been made towards social equality and the possibility of full social participation, despite the practical difficulties. Disabled people have begun to influence the decision- making process more actively by uniting their forces. Largely for this reason, public opinions and priorities have gradually become softer and more tolerant. And this in turn has affected the political will to make legislative changes.
However, at a time of social crisis, mass unemployment and economic difficulties, there is always the fear of a regression in social development and a return of harder values. This means that all disabled people should continue to be as active as possible, in co-operating with other disabled people and with those who plan and make the decisions in society.
Full participation and equality is not merely a motto, it is an ongoing process of the work of our organisations and the fruitful co-operation with governmental bodies.
Thank you very much for your attention.