In this issue, we highlight a prevalent access problem in Denmark, showing how persistence, dedication, and awareness can provide solutions.
Text: Sara R. Newell / Nikolaos Papadopoulos
While Denmark has a reputation for having one of the world’s most well-functioning welfare systems, this is far from always the case for people with disabilities. When it comes to being an inclusive society, Denmark still has a long way to go to improve the inclusion of people with disabilities, who account for a whopping 20-30% of the country’s population, making them the largest minority group in Denmark.
Infrastructure that supports accessibility for the disabled, such as access ramps and wheelchair elevators, can be found in many public and private places. On a positive note, Denmark is home to the Sølund music festival, the world’s largest festival dedicated to people with disabilities.
The current Danish government introduced a national reform programme in 2018, intending to increase inclusivity for people with disabilities in workplaces and access to education. This effort is part of the government’s 10 Goals for Social Mobility, outlined in the programme. These goals are monitored in the annual Social Policy Report, although it is ambiguous if these initiatives have resulted in tangible and measurable positive changes.
"The standard wheelchair-accessible toilets, prevalent across the entire continent, are designed under the assumption that disabled people possess upper body strength and are perfectly capable of tending to their own needs alone, without the need for external help - something which in many cases is simply not true."
According to the disability index of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, conditions for people with disabilities in Denmark are deteriorating in 9 out of 10 critical areas identified in the index, with only a slight improvement in the area of “employment”. Recently, an appeal was made to international bodies such as the UN, European Council, and Amnesty International by the grassroots movement En Million Stemmer (One Million Voices). In the appeal, the movement highlights what is described as ongoing and persistent discrimination by the Danish state against people with disabilities. This was especially highlighted by the Danish Parliament’s recent decision not to incorporate the UN Disability Convention into Danish law.
However, before delving into the more deep-seated problems prevalent across the country, ensuring people with disabilities right to accessibility is vital. One such example is the need for, and right to, wheelchair accessible lavatories. While the existence of accessible lavatories dedicated to people with disabilities cannot be denied, the question remains if they are up to the standards and needs of their intended users. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
According to Ross Hovey and James Stuart-Smith, co-founders and board trustees of Changing Places International, this is not the case. The standard wheelchair-accessible toilets, prevalent across the entire continent, are designed under the assumption that disabled people possess upper body strength and are perfectly capable of tending to their own needs alone, without the need for external help - something which in many cases is simply not true.
Changing Places International is an organisation dedicated to ensuring that all people have access to appropriate and acceptable toilet facilities regardless of their particular needs. Changing Places International provides specific standards for the toilets they design, and their goal is for these standards to be consistent for everyone regardless of location. Ross explains that the organisation fully understands that the context is not the same in all countries or locations and that sometimes they will have to fight “on a case by case basis”. The standards Changing Places International use ensure that there is specialised equipment present and plenty of space for the person using the lavatory and the caregivers.
When the co-founders reflect back on the beginning of the movement, they say that the biggest difficulty was convincing people to take the initiative seriously and understanding that accessible toilets are a necessity and not a luxury.
“It does not matter whether the facility is used or not - it matters if it is available,” says James. This grassroots movement is now attempting to bring its ideas to the rest of the world. They hope to succeed in this endeavour with the help of like-minded organisations and movements.
One can only hope that movements like Changing Places International and One Million Voices succeed in making their voices heard across Denmark and beyond!
If you’d like to follow either organisation: