It will now be illegal, and therefore a punishable offence, to discriminate against the disabled, according to the Ministry of Children and Equality’s proposal for a new Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act. The act states that all new buildings must satisfy the demands of a so-called «universal design». All existing buildings must be upgraded to the new standard. According to the proposal, adjustments to school buildings and public institutions will be especially important.
But suggestions as to how exactly the government proposes to finance this, are remarkably absent in the proposal. And the costs may be enormous, if we are to believe Frode Meinich, technical director at the University of Oslo (UiO).
– I would estimate that such an upgrade of the university would cost between 1 and 2 billion kroner, he says.
Four billion behind
Today approximately five per cent of the maintenance budget at the university is set aside for universal design, but this amount is just four million kroner – nowhere near the billions needed.
– The university is struggling with a group of buildings that were built in another time, and we already need around four billion for maintenance and upgrades, says University Director at UiO, Gunn Elin Aa. Bjørneboe.
Still, the Director makes it clear that the university is very eager to live up to the norms of a universal design, and that all new buildings since 2005 have followed this principle.
Meinich believes that without increased support, it will take 30-40 years for the university to reach the goals set in the proposal.
– This is a money issue, and if you want quicker progress, more public funding needs to be put on the table, he says.
The Syse Committee, who made the original proposal, gave a deadline of January 1st 2019 for the upgrades. In a statement during the hearing, the university demanded that this time-limit had to lead to public resources beyond the normal funding. Now the ministry has chosen to remove the deadline altogether.
– The reason for removing the time-limit in the proposal is probably that the ministry has understood how much this would have cost, states Meinich.
A laconic cabinet minister
Despite the sky-high costs, Minister of Children and Equality Anniken Huitfeldt does not believe in increased funding.
– University funding is a case for the government budget, so we will have to get back to this, says Huitfeldt.
She is however very pleased to be presenting such an «offensive proposal» to the Norwegian parliament, as she herself characterizes it. Huitfeldt points out that the law paves the way for the measures regarding existing buildings, is to be followed up in the new Planning and Building Act.
When it comes to concrete time-limits, the government believes that support in the Planning and Building Act gives the most predictability, at the same time as the legal security is preserved, she says. Lars Ødeård, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Handicap Association, believes that the absence of deadlines could allow the university to slack off.
– The law is constructed in such a way that the discrimination continues in existing buildings. The university has to take responsibility, says Ødegård.
He believes that there is a great probability that the lack of a deadline will make this law redundant and ineffectual.
Frode Meinich disagrees with this.
– Unrealistic laws lead to everyone losing out, says Meinich, who instead hopes for a sensible regulation of progress in the directions for the new Planning and Building Act.
UiO has in addition to this a number of buildings that are of cultural and historical value, which due to conservation cannot satisfy the demands for universal design. However, the proposition takes into account that conservation needs must be taken into consideration in such cases.
– For the stairs leading from Universitetsplassen and into the assembly hall, a central wheelchair lift would be the only adequate alternative, but here aesthetic and conservational concerns would prevent such a solution, says Meinich.
Sight- and movement-disabled Mia Jacobsen studies social anthropology and has applied to do an MA in the autumn. She points out that it is amongst other things difficult to participate in the social sides of student life.
– The pub at Fredrikke closes its wheelchair entrance at seven o’clock in the evening. After that, there is no other option that to be carried in, says Jacobsen.
She feels that the university is nowhere near fulfilling the demands. The ministry’s proposal will be processed in the Norwegian parliament during the spring, and will in all likelihood be accepted, as the government has a majority in Parliament.