This month, the Independent Living movement achieved a great victory – Finland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons wih Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol. ENIL interviewed Kalle Konkkola, one of the founders of ‘KYNNYS: THE THRESHOLD ASSOCIATION’ – the Finnish Independent Living organisation.
The Threshold Association is a cross-disability organisation founded in 1973 by disabled people. Its main mission is based on three core elements – human rights, independent living and culture, all aiming to empower disabled people in Finland. They also have projects in a number of developing countries. The Threshold’s head office is located in Helsinki, and they have branches in five other cities in Finland. They have 1,600 members.
ENIL: Hello Kalle. You are active in the Independent Living movement and have been a disability rights activist for many years. Can you tell us how, why and when it all started?
K.K.: It all started in 1972 when we established our Independent Living organization called ‘The Threshold’. First it was run by disabled students.
ENIL: What or whom would you say was your biggest inspiration?
K.K.: It is difficult to say, because we did not have any role models then.
ENIL: Can you tell us a bit more about the situation of disabled people in Finland, and how the situation has evolved over the years?
K.K.: Many things are quite good, but still, we also have problems. Access to employment is not what we would like it to be and also the education level of disabled people is too low. We do have the legal right to personal assistance though. This is good.
ENIL: Very recently, on 11 May 2016, Finland finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol. How come it took so long?
K.K.: In the beginning it was hard to get the authorities to understand what full participation means. The last problem was legal capacity for people with intellectual disabilities. That took many years.
ENIL: Were laws changed in Finland to get them in line the UN CRPD?
K.K.: Some were changed – the law on legal capacity and the community care law. Not so many.
ENIL: Are there any laws that still need to be changed according to you and the Finnish Independent Living movement?
K.K.: Yes, we need a law for better accessibility, for access to housing and transport and some social services.
ENIL: Do you plan to use the CRPD for future lobbying work on Independent Living issues in Finland?
K.K.: Yes. We have a serious situation. The government is making accessibility worse, so we can use the UN CRPD to address this.
ENIL: The effects of the current crisis are hitting disabled people around Europe even more than other European citizens, with personal budgets and community-based services often targeted first. How can this be explained?
K.K.: The right wing wind is strong in many countries. Also, many social democratic parties are more right wing than ever before.
ENIL: What is the situation in Finland when it comes to the austerity measures and cuts?
K.K.: It is difficult. The Government is planning to cut some services and have asked me to make a new proposal on how this could be done. I am trying to find a way using a less bureaucratic approach and will report on it in October.
ENIL: Your work on disability rights is not only limited to Finland. Can you tell us about your international activities and achievements?
K.K.: I have been internationally active from the late 80s. Finland is a rich country and we have international responsibilities. ‘The Threshold’ has activities in Central Asia, in the Balkans and in Ethiopia. I also founded with my friends the ‘Abilis Foundation’ 20 years ago and it has supported 4000 projects of disabled people in the global South.
ENIL: What are your wishes for the future regarding Independent Living and personal assistance?
K.K.: We need a center for personal assistance and services should be in the hands of disabled people. We also need more accessibility.
ENIL: What advice would you give to young disabled persons?
K.K.: Hey, life is in front of you!
ENIL: Thank you for the interview, Kalle. We wish you success with your mission and your work!