Volume 5 Issue 5 - March 01, 2007
“Direct discrimination is forbidden in Finland, but yes, there is discrimination:” Riku Virtanen
Finnish law student and activist RikuVirtanen, who recently visited Delhi, is studying to be a human rights lawyer in a top university in Finland. What distinguishes his feat is the fact that he is deaf-blind. He is perhaps going to be the first deaf-blind lawyer in the world. The activist communicates with the help of technology and an interpreter. He shares his views on various issues and his recent Indian experience with ChitraS.Shankar in an interview for D.N.I.S.
1. What brought you to India?
I had never visited India before. During autumn 2006, I decided on a four day trip to Delhi. In addition, different development projects and more generally, disability issues are important to me. I wanted to see how things are in Delhi in this sector.
2. Which are the cities you visited and what were your experiences?
I visited only Delhi. Because of my deafblindness, I do not know about the visual aspects of the city, but traffic was an experience in itself! The food was not too hot and cooperation with people went fine. I did not encounter any negative attitudes at all.
3. You met with disability advocates in Delhi. What is your understanding of the disability movement in India?
A difficult question. I have to say that I do not know a lot. During my trip, I learnt a little bit about this issue. I was impressed that National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People has good connections with media. This is a key factor when the organisation is fighting for rights of people with disabilities.
4. Do you think the U.N. Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities will make any difference to the situation of disabled people in developing countries? If yes, in what way?
In the long run, it will. Nowadays, in many developing countries, people with disabilities do not have reasonable legal capacity or services, and they are often poor. The awareness among decision makers is a key factor and the U.N. Convention can promote such awareness. However, disability activism will be needed. If the politicians speak only about issues, nothing changes. Awareness about the needs of people with disabilities is exploding in some countries, but unfortunately, speeches of diplomats and real life situations are two different things. In many developing countries, things could be better if the attitudes and traditions change, and prejudices decrease.
5. Tell us about the situation of disabled people in Finland.
Relatively, it is pretty good. However, there are many violations of human rights, too. For instance, persons with mental disabilities are locked in their homes; mobility of people with disabilities is pretty restricted and only few of them are employed. Surprisingly, many disabled people are overeducated, but they do not get a good job since employers do not want to employ them.
6. Does the educational system in Finland truly integrate/include disabled people?
Theoretically, yes. In practice, we have many special schools for deaf, blind and physically disabled people. At the university level, accessibility issues are arising and most of the new buildings are more accessible, and generally, the education system is changing to be more accessible for all.
7. Are University students taught sign language as part of the curriculum or special course?
No. Sign language is missing at the University level.
8. Is assistive technology subsidised?
Yes. Very expensive applications are free for disabled students. Cheaper applications related to disability are generally free, too.
9. Is there a community of deafblind people in Finland?
Yes. The main association is the Finnish Deafblind Assocation and its website is www.kuurosokeat.fi.
10. Is there discrimination against disabled people in Finland?
Direct discrimination is forbidden in Finland, but yes, there is discrimination!
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