“The World Became my Room”, Kalle Könkkölä

“The World Became my Room”, Kalle Könkkölä

The World Became My Room, written by Kalle Könkkölä and Heini Saraste (1996) on the life of Kalle, the Finnish guru for Independent Living, is a must read! Kalle spoke and Heini wrote. The English translation might never pass an English test but it communicates the activism and fantastic story of the Finnish Independent Living movement with Kalle at it’s lead.

The book takes us from Kalle’s birth in 1950 through to the establishment of the Finnish Independent Living movement and their Center of Independent Living, Threshold Association in 1973. It also communicates Kalle’s existential thoughts on life at the age of 45. Kalle, raised in a devoted family, says he lived there too long, staying there until he married at the age of 26. But it was not easy to leave before then due to a lack of integrated services. When he was young, his mother and father refused to send him away to school, which Kalle claims is the reason he was able to live and work successfully integrated into society. As the youngest of six he gained a spirit of competition and there were many occasions for leadership training! This background led him to be the respected leader he is today.

Kalle’s impairment was recognized at birth and the prognosis was that he would not make the first year, nor another and not yet another. But Kalle proved the doctors wrong and his mother lost confidence in traditional medicine. He gave the family hope and flaunted his ability to learn quickly.

Kalle’s journey includes the start of the Finnish Green party, he himself becoming a Member of Parliament in 1983. Stories in the book reveal the social attitudes that needed to be fought. An example of this is when Kalle’s doctor changed his medical status when he became a Member of Parliament. With this change, he lost his personal assistance – a Member of Parliament could not need personal assistance! Kalle had to move to an institution and fight from there for the return of his personal assistance which would once again allow him the possibility to live a life of self-determination.  Life in the institution was a challenge with Kalle arriving late to the Parliament having had to wait on the institution’s personnel to assist him with his morning routine. He himself could not decide the timing of the schedule and had no say in the matter.

Throughout the book , Heini and Kalle introduce us to other Finnish and international activists. One Finnish activist is Maija Elomaa who became Kalle’s late wife. Together, Kalle and Maija raised and delivered on disability issues through cooperation with other Threshold Association members and the Finnish Green Party, with different political appointments such as the Helsinki Social Committee. Maija, in spite a visual impairment, being an architect made a difference in Finland when it came to accessibility! She fought and won battles for accessible transport among other issues.

Kalle still fights today for a better world. He is against special schools and institutions as he says, if society is allowed to continue to hide disabled people they will continue to forget them. He is also against Euthanasia – every life is worth living!

Kalle finds it exciting to work within the disability movement. He is inspired when the awakening of people to their situation allows for influence and change.  He believes that cooperation can change the world. Kalle describes it as bravery when Rosangela Bierman from Brazil contacts the Mayor of Rio to remove barriers from the city and when Martin Naughton, Irish, from nothing starts a center of Independent Living in Dublin employing fifty people.

Kalle refers again to Martin, today the Co-Director of ENIL – European Network on Independent Living when he considers the mystery of life and his own difficulties and fears. Growing older and loosing strength is a challenge for him. Kalle fears not being able to move his hands to feed himself, but then he refers to how he was marked by his first meeting with Martin many years ago. Martin, described as a man with a bohemian structure, with dignity was fed by his personal assistant over a fine hotel table and was no less charismatic for this!

Kalle never satisfied to sit still found the world became his room. His travels take him to many of the world’s countries, from Africa to Asia, where he made a difference. He met with other leaders and with people within the disability movements itself and left people inspired. Kalle was not stopped by his respiratory dependency, his travels were immense and for this he has been a great inspiration for many. He proved that problems were to be solved!

When visiting Kalle in the spring of 2012, I found him still to be the vibrant person due great respect! He cooperated to build the Finnish Independent Living movement that recently expanded from Helsinki to five other offices in the country. He continues to be a major actor in the Global Independent Living movement. Kalle is going strong in spite of the passing years! The book is well worth a read and if you have not met Kalle I can only recommend a trip to Helsinki.

The book can be acquired for 10 Euros from Kalle – Kalle.konkkola@kynnys.fi

Written by: Jamie Bolling – ENIL Executive Director

1 Comment

Tonu karu

September 6, 2013, 3:05 am


It has been my privilege to be a student and friend of Kalle and his wife Maija since 1985. Together we have done our best to introduce the knowledge about disability matters as human rights in Estonia and the whole former USSR. The first breakthrough was the UN Expert Meeting in Tallinn 14-22 August 1989 and the following RI Conference about disabled children. Most of the participants were a part of the Baltic Human Chain Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius 23th August 1989 and the UN document Tallinn Guidelines ( see http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/44/a44r070.htm ) is guiding us until today.

As you Kalle always – Meie eesmärk on vabadus / Our aim is freedom !!!

With love and admiration,
Your humble student

Tõnu Karu, Representative of Tallinn at the EU

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