The Nordic vision and Agenda 2030

According to Vision 2030 of the Nordic Council of Ministers the Nordic countries will become the most integrated, green, competitive and socially sustainable region by 2030. The vision reflects the sustainability goals of the UN Agenda 2030 where one of the basic principles is that no one is excluded. The agenda was adopted in 2015 and includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 objectives for sustainable development that are integrated and indivisible. A number of these goals and objectives directly mention persons with disabilities. Objective 10 regards the reducing of inequality within and among countries and the objective for 2030 is to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. The Convention was opened for signature a year later.  The Convention comprises 50 articles.  The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
The Convention is based on several general principles stated in Article 3.
  • respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons,
  • non-discrimination,
  • full and effective participation and inclusion in society,
  • respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity,
  • equality of opportunity,
  • accessibility,
  • equality between men and women,
  • respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

The principles in Article 3 act as guidance on how the rights and obligations regulated in articles 5–30 are to be read. They enable an understanding of the obstacles for realising the rights and what the rights entail.
When it comes to CRPD, and the freedom of choice and independent living – we need to make sure that we implement it in a good way so that everyone gets the support they need in an individualized manner.
Sif Holst, Vice chair, Disabled Peoples Organisations Denmark

How is support and service to be organised in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Article 19 is key in the Convention and is seen by many as the core of the Convention. The Article deals with the right to live independently and to be included in the community, which requires, among other things, that persons with disabilities have access to different forms of community services and support. In order to be able to live independently and participate in the community the States Parties must ensure that
  1. persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement,
  2. persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential, and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living
  3. and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community, and
  4. community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.
Article 19 applies to all persons with disabilities, irrespective of the extent of their disability and need for support. 
Other Articles that are important for the interpretation of Article 19 and ensuring independent living and a full inclusion in all areas of life for persons with disabilities are, among other things,
  • Article 3c: “full and effective participation and inclusion in society”
  • Article 4.1 (i) General obligations: “to promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities in the rights recognized in the present Convention so as to better provide the assistance and services guaranteed by those rights.”
  • Article 5.3 Equality and non-discrimination: “In order to promote equality and eliminate discrimination, States Parties shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided.”
  • Article 8 Awareness-raising: d) “promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.”
  • Article 9 Accessibility: 2.b: “to ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities.”
  • Article 12 Equal recognition before the law: 1. “persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law.”
  • Article 26 Habilitation and rehabilitation: “support participation and inclusion in the community and all aspects of society, are voluntary, and are available to persons with disabilities as close as possible to their own communities, including in rural areas.”
  • Essential in the Convention is the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their organisations in accordance with Article 4.3.

General comment NR5[1]

The Committee on CRPD has drawn up general comments; General comment No. 5 (2017) on living independently and being included in the community, supporting the interpretation of Article 19.[2]  Independent life is defined by the Committee as follows:
“Independent living/living independently means that individuals with disabilities are provided with all necessary means to enable them to exercise choice and control over their lives and make all decisions concerning their lives. Personal autonomy and self-determination are fundamental to independent living.”
The Committee distances itself from different forms of institutions and says, among other things, in 16 c.:
“Both independent living and being included in the community refer to life settings outside residential institutions of all kinds. It is not “just” about living in a particular building or setting; it is, first and foremost, about not losing personal choice and autonomy as a result of the imposition of certain life and living arrangements. Neither large-scale institutions with more than a hundred residents nor smaller group homes with five to eight individuals, nor even individual homes can be called independent living arrangements if they have other defining elements of institutions or institutionalization. Although institutionalized settings can differ in size, name and set-up, there are certain defining elements, such as obligatory sharing of assistants with others and no or limited influence over whom one has to accept assistance from; isolation and segregation from independent life within the community; lack of control over day-to-day decisions; lack of choice over whom to live with; rigidity of routine irrespective of personal will and preferences; identical activities in the same place for a group of persons under a certain authority; a paternalistic approach in service provision; supervision of living arrangements; and usually also a disproportion in the number of persons with disabilities living in the same environment.”

Personal assistance

According to the Committee personal assistance distinguishes it from other types of support efforts. The funding is to be allocated to the individual with the purpose of paying for any assistance required. The funding is to be based on an individual needs assessment. The service must also be controlled by the person with disability, meaning that they can either contract the service from a variety of providers or act as an employer, as well as have the option to custom design their own service, i.e., design the service and decide by whom, how, when, where and in what way the service is delivered and to instruct and direct service providers. The Committee has in addition to these also several other quality requirements on personal assistance.
In the general comment the Committee also takes a stand on support services it sees as not fulfilling the requirements in Article 19. This concerns for example “package solutions” which, among other things, link the availability of one particular service to another, expect two or more persons to live together or can only be provided within special living arrangements. According to the Committee these are not in line with Article 19. Concepts of personal assistance wherein the person with disabilities does not have full self-determination and self-control are also not considered to comply with Article 19. The Committee also takes a strong stand against all forms of collective solutions such as institutional living. Also support services in institutional form are not allowed according to the Convention since they segregate and limit the personal autonomy.

Individualised support services

Regarding other support measures the Committee emphasises in Article 19b that individualised support services must be considered a right.  This means that persons with disabilities have the right to choose services and service providers according to their individual requirements and personal preferences. Individualised support should be flexible enough to adapt to the requirements of the “users”. This places an obligation on States Parties to ensure that there are a sufficient number of qualified specialists that are able to identify practical solutions to the barriers to living independently within the community, in accordance with the requirements and preferences of the individual.
Individualised services are not to be restricted to services inside the home but must also be able to be extended to a large spectrum of employment and education, as well as travel and recreation. While individualised support services may vary in name in different countries, they must be designed to support living within the community, preventing isolation and segregation from others, and aiming at the realisation of full inclusion within the community.

Equal access to community services

Article 19c states that persons with disabilities must have the right to community services and facilities intended for the general population and that they must be available on equal terms as well as meet their needs. This right covers all community services, and they must also be available and designed to be adaptable in practice. Article 19c is central and individual measures for persons with disabilities do not replace the right to be included in what is offered to the general public.

CRPD and the Nordic countries

All the Nordic countries have ratified CRPD and reported to the Committee.
Denmark ratified the convention on 24 August 2009. Denmark submitted its first report in 2011 with a chapter on the development on Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Denmark received questions from the Committee in 2014. Denmark answered these questions later in the year. After the review in Geneva the Committee sent its closing observations. In 2020 Denmark submitted a combined second and third report, including the report for Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
In Finland the Convention and the additional protocol came into force for ratification on 10 June 2016. The government of Åland reports on the implementation of the Convention in a separate report. Finland submitted its first report, including the development on Åland, to the Committee in 2019.
Iceland ratified the CRPD 2017 and submitted its first report in February 2021.
Norway ratified the CRPD in 2014, submitted its first report in 2015 and received questions from the Committee in 2017. Norway answered the questions in 2019, the same year the review in Geneva took place.
Sweden ratified the CRPD in 2008, submitted its first report in 2011 and received as well as answered the Committee’s questions in 2013, the same year the first review in Geneva took place. Sweden submitted its combined second and third report in 2019.

[1] The quotations are from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Conclusions and recommendations from the CRPD Committee for each country

All countries, except for Iceland, who reported in February 2021, have received conclusions and recommendations from the Committee.

Denmark (2014)

The Committee expresses its concern over the increased number of housing similar to institutions in the municipalities with 39–60 living facilities outside city centres, and the limited possibilities for persons with disabilities to choose where they want to live.

Norway (2019) 

The Committee expresses its concern over the lack of an action plan with clear dates and budgets for deinstitutionalising, and that the focus is rather on shared than on independent living, and that not enough measures are taken for adequate resources for user-led personal assistance in the municipalities.

Sweden (2014)

The Committee expresses its concern over the fact that government-funded personal assistance has been cancelled for a number of persons since 2010, due to a change in the interpretation of “fundamental needs” and “other personal needs”, and that the persons still receiving assistance have been hit by heavy reductions without any known or apparent reasons.  The Committee is also worried about the reported number of efforts decided upon according to the Swedish law on support and service that have not been executed. The Committee recommends that Sweden ensures that programmes for personal assistance provide adequate and fair economic support in order to ensure that a person may live an independent life in the community.

[1] The cites are taken from a Swedish version, originally translated by The Swedish Agency for Participation,