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Users of Special Transport Services Face Suspicion

Individuals applying for publicly subsidised special transport services reserved for individuals with mobility-limiting conditions have to pass an extensive assessment battery. A new doctoral thesis exploring the legal landscapes in Denmark, Norway and Sweden points out that this runs contrary to the purpose of the service – to facilitate people’s autonomy and independence.

Andreas Pettersson. Press photo
 Andreas Pettersson. Press photo

The purpose of the special transport services is to increase the autonomy and independence of individuals with a norm-deviating functional variation, but applicants are subject to close scrutiny.‘You have to reveal everything about yourself; how your body works and what relationships you are engaged in. You have to prove you are worthy of the assistance,’ says Andreas Pettersson, researcher at the Forum for Studies on Law and Society, Umeå University.

Pettersson’s doctoral thesis, titled Out and About in the Welfare State – the Right to Transport in Everyday Life for People with Disabilities in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian Law,  brings attention to the legal relationship between the public and the individual. The thesis discusses three types of transport solutions for eligible individuals: special transport services, car allowances, and cash reimbursing of transport costs. The thesis’ methodology and theories are based on gender research.

One of the most serious weaknesses identified in the thesis is that economic arguments are allowed to affect the legal decisions surrounding the granting of assistance. This finding is particularly evident for Sweden and Norway. Denmark specifies a minimum level of support, which provides some protection against politicians’ budget decisions. The rather intimate assessments of applicants are standard practice in all three countries. Pettersson warns that this level of scrutiny may run contrary to the very purpose of the service.
‘The objective is to facilitate equality and participation, but the system works in the opposite direction,’ he says.

The view of the state as good is typical for the Nordic countries, and Pettersson believes that this contributes to an acceptance of this type of elaborate control mechanism. He feels that the government should respond to the citizens’ high trust by showing stronger trust in them.
‘If somebody for example uses a wheelchair, I think it ought to be enough if that person says he or she needs this service,’ he says.

Updated 2 May 2020