Should Scotland adopt a similar Accessibility Act to the one in Norway to address the societal barriers that people with disabilities face locally? This unique Accessibility Act has been adopted in very few countries across the world. It has played a particularly important role in improving accessibility through physical, social and technological infrastructure. The success of this specific legislation in Norway has allowed its society to develop and adopt a universal design approach to their technological and physical infrastructure amongst other factors. The impact of the legislation has provided transformational change in Norway. So, could Scotland follow suit by introducing its own new legislation?
According to the Scottish Government, there are currently over a million people with disabilities who live in Scotland’s communities. However, many of them are still unable to be active citizens because of societal barriers, including access to housing, accessing public transport, employment, public services and local environments which are designed and operated in ways that exclude people with disabilities. People with disabilities face daily challenges in relation to inaccessible communication, negative attitudes, low expectations, discrimination and inequality which impact in society.
In 2016 the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU), however Scotland voted overwhelmingly by 52% to 48% in favour of remaining in the EU confirmed by the UK Government. The Scottish Government in 2014 launched a Nordic and Baltic nation’s policy statement which aimed to strengthen the relationship with countries in the Nordic and Baltic regions, bringing together various strands of engagement undertaken by Nordic countries.
The UK Parliament legislated the Scotland Act 1998 which was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It was introduced in 1999 and gave the Scottish Parliament the responsibilities of education, health, housing and social services. The Scotland 1998 Act transferred its functioning relationship to the implementation and obligation of EU laws as well. It also provided powers to the Scottish ministers to ensure that it complied with the European Convention on Human Rights Law (UK Government, 1998). One of the overarching legislations that covers Scotland and the UK is the UK Equality Act (EA) 2010. This applies to the UK including Scotland and provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals, including equality. The UK EA 2010 applies to the provision of services, public functions, employment and education.
In Scotland human rights policies are embedded into the current constitutional legislative and judiciary system. It acknowledges Scotland has a closer increasing international engagement throughout the world where the Scottish Parliament is consumed in a compatible manner on human rights matters rather than the UK Parliament.
Norway has a well-developed legal and institutional framework when it comes to the protection and promotion of human rights. The human rights agenda was added to the Norwegian Constitution in 2014 incorporating civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Norway ratified the UN CPRD, and while the Convention is not part of Norway’s laws, the international human rights obligations are referred to in a general way since the introduction of the Norwegian Constitution.
Norway recognised a person with a disability should have the legal capacity on an equal basis with other citizens in all aspects of his or her life. The Norwegian Government also recognised its obligations to take appropriate measures to provide access for a person with a disability to support them in any required legal capacity. Furthermore Norway declared its understanding of the UN CRPD which allows the withdrawal of legal capacity or support in cases where such measures are necessary. It is clear that Norway reinforced its legal framework for the protection of human rights within the country which highlighted the inter-dependent and elitist nature of human rights legislations.
The Norwegian Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act (ADAA) 2008 came into effect in 2009 with an overarching goal in terms of human rights and equal opportunities. Most of the provisions in relation to this medical definition are aimed at prejudging the disadvantage or impairment with the medical model. Over the last few decades there have been comprehensive legislative changes throughout the world to define the definition of disability as a matter of human rights. Consequently, suitable discrimination measures have been introduced in a number of countries including the UK DDA 1995.
Over the last forty years, disability legislations have been developed to address discrimination and equality, and yet they have provided a varying degree of protection in relation to the nine protected characteristics including disability within the UK EA 2010.
Scotland could learn from Norway, when it comes to enhancing the protection of people with disabilities and removing barriers in society. One of the positive areas that was identified in the research was the Norwegian Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act (ADAA) 2008.
This particular legislation could be adopted in Scotland to enhance and adapt a more streamlined approach to making sure that all physical, social and technological infrastructures, businesses and organisations embrace a universal design approach to society. This would help reduce the stigma and barriers that people with disabilities face in Scotland.