Legal documents favour visible disabilities

A man's hand is writing the word regulations in large script style writing.Norway has been following the underlying concepts of universal design for 25 years. This means they have a history of policy and activities to reflect upon. Previous papers have highlighted successes and where there is room for improvement. A new Norwegian study looks at universal design through a legislative lens and finds legal documents favour visible disabilities. 

In more recent years, people with invisible disabilities have raised their voices in the disability rights movement. However, their voices are yet to be incorporated into legislative documents. Historically, people with mobility and vision impairments led the way in disability rights. This means their needs were front of mind when legislation was formed. 

The Norwegian researchers wanted to find out if there is a “disability prestige” at play. This is where some disabilities count more than others. Or is it something as basic as just having your disability visible to others? The researchers concluded that visibility was more important to explain discrimination between groups. 

The Norwegian study can be generalised to many other countries. In Australia the Access to Premises Standard also favours people with mobility and vision impairments. 

The Norwegian researchers carried out their study in the context of transport. They discuss the wording of documents and how terms such as “reduced mobility” are interpreted. It can mean a person with a physical and/or a cognitive impairment. However, it is most often linked to movement of the body. 

Prestige versus visibility

In the Norwegian documents mobility impairments are mentioned more frequently than other disabilities. Vision impairments, also frequently mentioned, come in second. The researchers conclude that discrimination between disability types is mostly explained by the visibility of a disability.  

Why does this matter? Because when provision for other disabilities and long term health conditions are not mentioned in legal documents, businesses and services don’t provide them. 

The title is, How laws of universal design discriminate between different types of disabilities – Lessons learned from Norway.

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