Finn Hellman is a journalist and activist, with a focus on disability issues. Currently, he works part time as ombudsman for the left party in Dalarna in Sweden.
What is your personal experience of disability?
I am blind since three years of age.
How did you discover the Independent Living movement?
In the Spring of 2005, I was employed by the Independent Living Institute in Sweden to make Internet radio on disability. It was actually the first time I seriously got in touch with the Independent Living movement. Earlier I had met Susanne Berg, STIL and we liked each other on a personal level and Susanne’s attitude and political approach to disability issues interested me.
Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
It is difficult to select an area. But one thing that I feel strongly about is that more people with visual impairments should come in contact with the Independent Living philosophy. It is very rare that people with visual impairments in Sweden have access to personal assistance. But some of us have an “escort” which often means far fewer hours than people with disabilities, who have personal assistance. The ability to have influence over who becomes the “escort” is also severely limited compared to the freedom of choice for those with personal assistance.
Another area that interests me a lot is how self-determination among people with disabilities could increase if personal assistance and assistive technologies were based more on direct payments. For me, and as part of the Swedish left movement, it is a big challenge to make the left in Sweden more positive to different types of direct payment systems. These are often seen here in Sweden as a bourgeois and too market-oriented way to organize welfare.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
I’m very impressed by Susanne Berg and Adolf Ratzka. They have meant a lot to the development of politics and culture in Sweden in terms of disability. And I think it’s nice that they also have an international perspective and commitment. They taught me to question the dogmas both within and outside the disability movement.
Of what personal achievement are you most proud?
I have on several occasions organized radical actions with other persons with disabilities that require full participation in society. Sometimes it has been legal actions and sometimes civil disobedience. It has been important for disability policy and for my identity and well as others.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
My breakfast coffee.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like going to the gym, judo training, playing with my guide dog, going to the theater and cinema and reading books.
What advice would you give to young persons with a disability?
Educate yourselves, study disability history and get organized with other persons with disabilities!