3.10.2013
UN Human Rights Council; the right to education of persons with disabilities

Vammaisfoorumi ry
Handikappforum rf
Finnish Disability Forum

Ulkoasiainministeriö
Ihmisoikeuspolitiikan osasto

Background

The Finnish Disability Forum would like to thank the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs for this opportunity to give a statement regarding the questionnaire sent by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Finnish Disability Forum is a co-operation organization of 30 nationwide NGOs of persons with disabilities representing over 330 000 persons with disabilities or with long-term illnesses. Nationally, our advocacy activities are focused on ensuring equal participation of persons with disabilities in society.


Access of persons with disabilities to education (question 1)

At the beginning of the year 2012, a set of legislative changes entered into force, (commonly known by Finnish abbreviation Sora), concerning Act on vocational training (630/1998), Act on vocational training for adults (631/1998), Act on polytechnics (351/2003) and Act on universities (558/2009), all of which were amended in relation to, for example, barriers in terms of acceptance as a student and cancellation of the right to study.

The barriers to acceptance as a student are all included in section 27 a of the Act on vocational training, section 11 of the Act on vocational training for adults (631/1998), section 20 a of the Act on polytechnics (351/2003) and section 37 a of the Act on universities (558/2009). They all state that no factors, relative to an applicant’s state of health or functional capacity, shall constitute a barrier to their acceptance as a student. Notwithstanding this provision, an applicant should not be accepted as a student, if the applicant is incapable, on grounds of reasons related to their health or functional capacity, of completing practical exercises or internships forming an integral part of the studies, should this be included in safety requirements relative the same studies, as enacted in the same legislation, and if such a barrier cannot be removed by way of reasonable accommodations.

The starting point must be to remove barriers to studying and the application of special arrangements. Should the impairment or disability prevent participation in some practical activities, this will not mean that the student be automatically considered as not suited for the whole branch. The Constitutional Committee of the Finnish Parliament has taken a position on this issue in its report on the proposed legislation (PeVL 60/2010 VP) and stated that this fact must be considered while interpreting and applying the provisions concerning barriers to acceptance as a student.

Since the changes to legislation were passed, disability NGOs have learned of several instances where Sora-legislation has formed a concrete barrier to educational opportunities of persons with disabilities. Disability is directly considered to form a barrier to acceptance as a student. This problem has emerged particularly in vocational training at secondary level. Such practices are contrary to the position taken by the Constitutional Committee and the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Finland's Disability Policy Programme VAMPO 2010–2015 (question 3)

The objective of Finland's Disability Policy Programme VAMPO (Publications of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2010:4) is to ensure the equal status of people with disabilities in society in practice. The programme emphasizes equal opportunities of persons with disabilities to participate in education at all levels, from pre-primary to tertiary education) and to lifelong learning.

Measures relative to basic education include e.g. strengthening the recognition of need for support measures, and improving access to support measures, improving accessibility of learning environments and the development of morning and afternoon activities for students with disabilities.

Measures relative to vocational education will, for example, promote equal opportunities for study, accessibility as well as support young persons with disabilities to seek into education and to the working life by way of vocational and study guidance.

As for general secondary upper education, according to the VAMPO programme, measures include e.g. improving availability of assistants and of other necessary support measures, and improving the situation so that international exchange and training programs be available and accessible for young persons with disabilities in various stages of education on an equal basis with others.

As for tertiary education, universities and polytechnics will evaluate and develop accessibility of study as well as the realisation of equality as an integral part of their quality and assessments systems.

As for lifelong leaning, measures will be taken to develop accessibility of and access to free liberal adult education and support overall the opportunities of persons with disabilities to participate in continued, supplemental or retraining and education.

Non-Discrimination Act (question 3)

The purpose of the Non-Discrimination Act (21/2004) is to foster and safeguard equality. Under Section 5. Improving the access to employment and training of persons with disabilities, a person commissioning work or arranging training shall where necessary take any reasonable steps to help a person with disabilities to gain access to work or training, to cope at work. Under Section 7, the Act does not prevent specific measures aimed at the achievement of genuine equality in order to prevent or reduce the disadvantages caused by the types of discrimination referred to in section 6 (1) (positive discrimination). Positive discrimination must be appropriate to its objective.

Under both the Constitution Act of Finland and the Non-Discrimination Act, the authorities have a duty to foster equality. Under Section 4 of the Non-Discrimination Act, In particular, the authorities shall alter any circumstances that prevent the realization of equality. To actively foster equality may mean a deviation from the principle of equal treatment, so as to realize equality for groups in a weaker position.

Basic education (question 3)

A significant part of pupils and students with disabilities attend school in their municipality of residence. Full inclusion and the near school principle are goals for the organization of education for pupils and students with different disabilities. Services and supports necessary in basic education are arranged under the Basic Education Act (628/1998), which stipulates personal assistance services and interpretation services, among others.

In Finland, there are seven special schools run by the State. In addition to basic education, they also act as resource centers providing guidance and support to pupils and students with disabilities who are attending school in their municipality of residence, as well as supporting the schools. The obligation to provide guidance is mandatory task for these institutions under the law.

Additional information

Näkövammaisten Keskusliitto ry, Finnish Federation of Visually Impaired, education policy officer Ms Sari Kokko, tel +358 (0)50 401 5802, sari.kokko(ät)nkl.fi