Travel & Holidays

Is Finland accessible if you’re disabled?

Ever thought about going on a Scandinavian adventure? Disability Horizons co-founder Martyn Sibley is here to tell you all about his trip to Finland, from surviving -32°C temperatures to husky dog sledding, and a spot of Nordic blogging…

Back in January, I was lucky enough to visit Finland and get involved in the Nordic Bloggers Experience; a program of activities designed to bring together travel bloggers from all around the world. As well as networking and discussing our work, we also took part in a number of winter activities, and winter in Finland really is wintry! I must admit I was a bit nervous about visiting in January, one of the country’s coldest months. But as I’d never visited any part of Scandinavia before, my adventurous spirit got the better of me and I pushed any niggling doubts about freezing temperatures to the back of my mind.

So apart from enduring some seriously cold temperatures, what is Finland really like if you’re disabled?

What’s Finland like to live in if you’re disabled?

Like in most Scandinavian countries, the cost of living for your average citizen in Finland is higher than it is in the UK, as everyone in work is required to pay a higher rate of tax, with the Finnish average currently set at around 30%. While some citizens aren’t too pleased about this high outlay, the majority understand that they get a lot back – excellent public services and secure state benefits for anyone who needs them.

At the moment, due to high levels of unemployment in the country, the government is considering giving everyone a universal base income of around £575 a month, which would replace the benefits system and help to lift people out of poverty in the process.

Whether this happens or not remains to be seen, but under the current system, every disabled person I spoke to felt secure, and all of their needs in terms of care, housing and equipment were being met. While some people were worried about the threat of future cuts, these fears were nothing when compared to the levels of fear and despair that many disabled people are experiencing in the UK today.

Is Finland accessible?

Access to buildings and transport was also very good, and everywhere that I wanted to go proved to be accessible, which as you know, is a rare occurrence in most countries. I also found people’s general attitude towards disability in general to be very open-minded – I never felt pitied or judged.

In fact, the whole country seemed to just exude Scandinavian awesomeness, and while I hesitate to call it a disabled person’s paradise, as my visit was so brief, out of all of the countries I’ve visited to date, it really was at the top of the pile. America may have accessibility and a friendly attitude on its side, but with such an expensive and market driven healthcare system, they’ll never be truly disability friendly.

Martyn Sibley in Finland in the snowFreezing Finland

As for all that snow and ice, while I was very concerned about how my wheelchair would cope on arrival. But once I’d got used to it, it became normal. However, I can imagine that people in manual chairs would find it more of a struggle.

The cold temperatures were also bearable as long as I went out wearing enough layers, though this did make getting dressed an even lengthier process than it already is.

The highlight of the trip though, apart from meeting all the other fantastic travel bloggers, was my husky sledding experience with Matrocks Oy. We arrived ready for the sledding, a 90-minute drive from Helsinki where we were based, where it was by far the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced – the mercury plunged to -32°C! I wasn’t about to let the cold put me off though, and with my fiancee Kasia holding onto me tightly, the 1km journey through the glistening snow with the majestic dogs is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So, would I recommend visiting Helsinki and Finland in general? Absolutely! My advice, if you’re travelling in the winter months, is to not let the cold and snow put you off. Just make sure you pack a lot of warm clothes and thermals, and bring snow chains for your wheelchair if they’ll make you feel more secure.

It really is a wonderful, forward-thinking country and if you get the chance to visit, then grab it with both mittened hands!

By Martyn Sibley

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