Active involvement: putting the UNCRPD into practice

In Sweden, the predominant form of active involvement of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes – as required by the UNCRPD – remains the local disability council. Yet this model has limitations that are becoming increasingly apparent, a new Funka report shows.

Funka has recently conducted a study of how local authorities in Skåne county in southern Sweden actively involve persons with disabilities in decisions on issues that affect them. Such involvement, long demanded by the disability rights movement, has been codified in international law through the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

For the past several decades, Swedish public authorities have sought to meet demands for involvement through so-called disability councils: permanent advisory bodies where decision-makers meet with representatives of disabled persons’ organisations to discuss various issues. But are the disability councils fit for purpose in the current context? Funka’s report investigates this and other questions.

To create a truly inclusive society, it’s absolutely essential that the disability rights movement can affect political decisions says Emma Melander Borg of the County Administrative Board of Skåne, which assigned Funka to carry out this study. But both the municipalities and the disabled persons’ organisations indicate that there are major gaps in this regard. We don’t know enough about how active involvement can be achieved and developed.

The study looked at both the general situation in Skåne county and at a few specific municipalities that go about active involvement in unorthodox ways.

It was important to us that we studied not just the baseline solutions but also the more unusual cases, says Emil Gejrot, lead researcher for Funka on the assignment.

Funka’s study showed that the traditional disability council remains the principal way in which persons with disabilities are involved in local decision-making processes in Skåne, as it is elsewhere in Sweden. But the disability councils are not without flaws. The councils rarely manage to bring in additional perspectives on disability issues – such as children’s rights or gender equality – and not all groups of disabled persons have an equal voice. Furthermore, almost all disability councils are facing the challenge of falling levels of engagement in civil society organisations.

Many decision-makers in Skåne now feel that they need to find other ways of involving persons with disabilities, says Emil Gejrot. Doubtlessly, there’s much that can be done, not least by making greater use of digital tools. We think such innovation should be welcomed – provided it occurs on the terms of persons with disabilities themselves.

The County Administrative Board of Skåne will use the report in their continued work to advise and support local authorities in their efforts to implement the national disability strategy.

Funka’s report is valuable because it provides recommendations for work in a relatively unexplored field, says Emma Melander Borg. These recommendations will point the municipalities towards some possible paths forward.

Report (in Swedish only) on active involvement of persons with disabilities. PDF (646 kb), opens in new window