Members: ELIL Report



- E L I L -


The Estonian population is 1,4 millions, whereof 10% have some kind of disability. The Estonian Union of Persons with Mobility Impairment was established in 1989 and is a non-profit union. Disability movement was also present during the period before regaining the Estonian independence. 1980 the movement of mobility impaired people had its start – when the State Organisation of Motorists allowed sections for drivers of adapted cars. Physically disability movement started developing in the end of 1980-ies, when disability issues were brought into daylight. The Union is umbrella organisation for people with mobility impairment in Estonia. The Union has 26 member organisations altogether about 3500 persons. Since 1994 is the Union member of FIMITIC.

The Estonian society has been rapidly developing, and there have been big changes during a short period. Development of the society has taken the disability perspective into account, but the existing legislation is not enforced, the monitoring of enforcement of the legislation is insufficient, there are often no sufficient financial means to provide services and investments into technical improvement of the social field is insufficient.

The positive results of the transition period is that disability has become more visible in the society, but the big changes in the society have caused a lot of social problems, what also affect disabled people as a vulnerable group.

Investments into removal of physical barriers are needed – the new legislation and policies are taking disabled individuals into account quite strongly, but investments into social field do not follow. The fact is that since 1990-ies the percentage of social expenditure of the GDP has decreased each year.

How many (physically)disabled people live in Estonia: nobody knows exactly.

Population is 1,4 millions – 10% have some kind of disability – about 140 000 persons;

50% of them are with mobility impairment – about 70 000 persons;

5%-10% of them are wheelchair users – about 3500-7000 persons.

Children with physical disability – about 5000


Social Benefits For Disabled People. This Act, which was implemented in 2001, has two main aims: to compensate individuals for the extra costs of being disabled and to facilitate rehabilitation.

Through social benefits the government compensate the extra costs for disabled people what is occurred because of the need for external help in the daily life. There are 3 ranges of disability in Estonia – moderately disabled people, heavily disabled people and severely disabled people. The severity of disability can be reviewed as a result of rehabilitation, use of technical aids, adaptation of housing or other improvement of the situation. In case of severe disability the person need external help 24 hours, in case of heavy disability 12 hours per day and in case of moderate disability at least once a week outside his/her place of residence.

There are no specific information about age and sex. Approximately 1/3 of the Estonian population have an ethnic background other than Estonian. Women tend to be generally more active in the disability movement.



Disability Concept approved by the Estonian Government

16.05.1995 the Estonian government approved the National Disability Concept - what was targeted to secure implementation of UN Standard Rules in Estonia. The principles included in the concept are the following: To act according to the National Disability Concept , there is an action plan approved to implement the UN Standard rules in Estonia. The action plan have 2 parts, part 1 was approved by the Estonian government 15 th May 2001 and part 2 at 22 nd January 2002.

There is no special non-discrimination legislation in Estonia yet, but § 12 the Estonian constitution says that: Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinion, property or social status, or on other grounds.

Here disability is not included specially, but the general text of the constitution prohibits discrimination, it also indirectly includes disabled people.


Transposition of relevant EU Directives into national legislation

Proposal for Non-discrimination legislation , prohibiting discrimination on grounds of gender, race, nationality, age, disability , sexual orientation, social and legal status, religion or other belief was elaborated by Estonian Ministry of Justice. The bill was provided for the Estonian Parliament, but fell out as the working period of the 9th parliament exceeded.

Directive on Buses and Coaches The Estonian Ministry of Economics and Communication is currently reviewing, how the European Parliament and Council Directive 2001/85/EC provisions are covered in the national legislation.

Currently the discussion is ongoing with The Estonian Union of People with Mobility Impairment and the Ministry. The disability movement have at this stage got some response from the Ministry.

The ministry refer to that A rticle 2 of Directive 2001/85/EC states, that Member States may continue to grant national type-approval to buses and coaches which do not fulfil the technical provisions of Annex VII relating to accessibility for people of reduced mobility. However, if a Member State has transposed Directive 2001/85/EC on a compulsory basis into its national legislation, it may refuse the registration of new vehicles imported from another Member State which do not comply with Annex VII.

The ministry have asked Directorate General Enterprise, unit Automotive Industry questions concerning possible exemptions to the Community legislation. With respect to Community type-approval, Article 8(2) of the framework Directive 70/156/EEC  provides provisions for permitting a Member State to waive any provision of any separate Directive listed in Annex IV to that Directive, subject to the requirement that it is restricted to low volume production and restricted to the territory of that Member State.

The Member States may also approve a single vehicle on the basis of national legislation. This could mean that Directive 2001/85/EC is not applied to this particular vehicle.

Framework Employment Directive

European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/78/EC – the Framework Employment Directive have not been transposed into national legislation. The Phare Twinning project of Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs and British Ministry of Work and Pensions, implemented in 2003 and 1 st half of 2004 have proposed to implement a workplace adaptation scheme in Estonia.The aim of the scheme is to help employers to adapt the workplaces to suit people with disabilities. The scheme is under construction and will not be fully implemented yet.

Overview of different legal areas affecting everyday life of people with physical disabilities.

1 ) Social benefits for disabled people

2) Technical aids

3) Services provided by local authorities for people with disabilities, based on Social Care legislation

4) Legislation connected with work

5) Transportation benefits

6) Benefits for importing vehicles

7 ) Parking cards for disabled people

8) Traffic Insurance benefits for the disabled

9) In connection with general and vocational education

10) Compensation of rehabilitation expenses according to the rehabilitation plan for disabled children and adults

11) Demands on Accessibility of Disabled People to public buildings

Generally the legislation covers a wide range of areas, but the existing legislation is not enforced, the monitoring of enforcement of the legislation is insufficient, there are often no sufficient financial means to provide services and investments into technical improvement of the social field is insufficient.

The Union highlights the following needs in connection with legislation:

The government must transpose the directives into national legislation , monitor the enforcement and introduce sanctions.

The state should secure stable financing for the disability movement – what will contribute to increased capacity to monitor the existing legislation and lobby for new legislation.



The main body responsible for people with disabilities is the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs . The ministry does not have a separate disability unit, but the attitudes have been positive – a structured way of consultation with the disability movement isn't introduced from the side of ministry yet.

Currently the competences are divided as follows:

  • National level is responsible for disability benefits
  • Regional level is responsible for technical aids
  • Local level is responsible for services for people with disabilities: personal assistance, transportation etc.

The new concept of social care is stating that disabled people will get support on the local level. There are individual needs what must be evaluated, and the support will be provided based on the level of needs. The local social workers will deal with rehabilitation, benefits etc.

The concept is currently discussed and amended, and the disability movement is actively participating in this process.

The concept foresees that people with disabilities in working age – in other words, employment of disabled people – will remain in the competence of the national level. Local offices of Estonian Labour Market Board will enable access to mainstream labour market services for people with disabilities.

Available funding for the disability movement

The Estonian network of disability organisations is funded by means of Gambling Taxation . Each year the decision of the Council of Gambling Taxation is taken. Until 1996 a fixed percentage was dedicated for the disability movement. After 1996 the amount has been the same – in other words the support has decreased as the living standard increase. The state should secure stable financing for the disability movement – the decisions of Gambling Taxation Council are influenced by the political developments in the country. Therefore the understanding of the importance to keep the network of disability organizations, created in the beginning of 1990-ies must be accepted by all political forces in the country. The funding for the disability movement should increase, what has not been the case during at least 5 recent years.

Additionally many disability NGO-s work actively for attracting external funding through co-operation projects, municipal means and donors. Many organisations have been able to build up their work thanks to the organisations from Nordic countries.

The funding the state provides has been slightly decreasing, as the level of funding has stayed constant but the society is very rapidly developing. Still possibilities and the capacity to attract external finding has improved within the disability movement. The funding is project based, but it is meant for representation work carried out by NGOs and overhead costs to run the offices are allowed.


The Estonian disability movement is organised so that there are nation-wide disability specific NGO-s (at the moment 30 NGO-s operating nation-wide) and additionally 16 regional boards of disabled people, representing disability in each of the 15 Estonian counties and in the capital of Estonia – Tallinn.

The Union is umbrella organisation for people with mobility impairment in Estonia. The Union has 26 member organisations altogether about 3500 persons.

Member societies
Since 1st January 2003

  1. Jõgeva County Society of Persons with Mobility Impairment
  2. Järva Society of Persons with Mobility Impairment
  3. Support Society Of Children With Mobility Impairment
  4. West Harju County Disability Association
  5. Läänemaa County Disability Association
  6. NGO Miloserdije
  7. NGO Viru Valere
  8. Nissi Parish Disability Association
  9. Narva Disability Association "EENAR"
  10. Otepää Disability Association
  11. Põlva Disability Association
  12. Pärnu Disability Association
  13. Pärnu Wheelchair Club
  14. Rakvere Society of Persons with Mobility Impairment
  15. Rapla Society of People with Disablities
  16. Saare County Disability Association
  17. Tallinn Sport Club for the Disabled
  18. Tallinn Society of People with Mobility Impairment
  19. Tapa City Society of People with Mobility Impairment
  20. Tartu Society of People with Mobility Impairments
  21. Tõrva Union of People with Disabilities
  22. Valga Society of People with Mobility Impairments
  23. Viljandi County Disability Association
  24. Viljandi City Disability Association
  25. Võõru County Disability Association
  26. Võru Wheelchair Club

The tasks of the Estonian Union of Persons with Mobility Impairment:

  • participation in the elaboration of the national social policy, specially initiation of the elaboration and implementation of laws and other drafts of legal acts, development plans, programs and projects related to disabled people;
  • support social and working activity of physically disabled people;
  • support the development and professional growth of member organizations;
  • promoting awareness of the society about issues related to rehabilitation, treatment, general and vocational education, re-training, employment of physically disabled people, as well as their independent ability to cope in the society;
  • cooperation with associations of physically disabled people of other countries, mediation of information and experiences received from collaboration, participation in international collaboration projects;



The development in Estonia favours that disabled children are taught in integrated schools. The current Estonian legislation states that every child must be provided with education based on his/her development needs and learning abilities. There is also specialised school for the children with mobility impairment (Haapsalu).

The most needed development would be to improve the accessibility of the mainstream schools, that children can attend the classes. It will also be most needed to provide personal assistance services by the municipalities.

Main problems:

Many teachers, pre-school teachers and other personnel do not know how to make contact and teach a disabled child.

There is not sufficient possibilities to offer families with a disabled child or young person with support. A well-functioning rehabilitation and service system, including respite care and personal assistance must be developed.

Nescesary technical aids are lacking, what should secure teaching children in a mainstream school

The situation is easier for families who live in towns, at countryside when the family does not have a car, transportation to/from school and training is difficult

Competence centres are needed in Estonia there the child and the family can get professional consulation and rehabilitaiton/training.

Main aims and demands of the physically disability movement

To improve accessibility of schools – and utilise the European Union structural funds according to the Single Programming Document –Measure 1.1 Education system securing flexibility of the workforce, competitiveness and life-long learning available for all.

Until now the disability movement haven´t been actively included into planning of implementation of this measure.

To change attitudes among teachers and encourage municipalities to provide personal assistant services for children attending education at integrated schools.

To secure that the education what has been acquired is also exploited – the matter of education should be solved in co-operation with the bodies improving employment of disabled people.

To clearly state the municipal responsibilities to offer support for children and young people with physically disabilities. When the government have made the municipalities responsible for disabled people who are not of working age, necsesary means and support from state level and monitoring should follow.



There are very many disabled people who are unemployed. Tax system does not provide any reductions what might stimulate employers to engage disabled people. There is a reduction system introduced, but the reduction is so small that only 15 companies according to the data from Ministry of Social Affairs has applied for the reduction.

Estonia does not have a supported employment system for people with disabilities, what is built with help of the disability movement. Many organisations of disabled people are interested in improving employment of disabled people, but currently the existing possibilities in the society are not sufficient to implement such work.

Union identified the following barriers for better employment of disabled people:


Both employers, policy makers and disabled people may have a lack of information, knowledge and expereince with each other.

Lacking access to education and training

Disabled people have often difficulties acquiring proper employment what is in accordance to their needs and capacity.

In some cases are disabled people themselves not very motivated to find jobs (lack of rehabilitation centres and job coaching and practicing centres)

Benefit traps

The pensions system does not encourage disabled people (especially severely disabled people) to enter or re-enter the labour market.

Transport and communication

  • Bad accessibility of the transport and built environment make it difficult or impossible for disabled people to come to work or to school

Extra cost for employers

  • Employing a disabled person, the employer will have extra costs and there is no system what compensates for those extra costs, as well is the enforcement of Health and Safety on the Workplace legislation insufficient.


  • There are too many cases there employers discriminate against disabled job-seekers or disabled employees. Employment contract law does not prohibit dismissal of disabled people as it does e.g. for pregnant women.

Lack of stability then working

  • There is not sufficent protection against dismissal.  


Adapted and sheltered employment for people with disabilities

There in not sufficient supported employment and sheltered employment options for people with disabilities

The disability movement considers it very important to develop a flexible system of sheltered and supported employment, good access to mainstream labor market services, flexible working place and time opportunities.

Most organizations consider employment as a very important issue. The general point of view is that supported and sheltered employment possibilities should exist at the same time with mainstream employment. There is no quota system in Estonia, and there have not been a discussion to introduce a quota – mainly due to the fact that many companies are small and medium size enterprises and a quota would be difficult to enforce.

Vocational training

The Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs has developed a vocational training centre for people with physically disabilities. The centre provides vocational training on many fields, but the employment possibilities for people who have graduated from the Astangu vocational rehabilitation centre are limited because the network with the society, i.e. with co-students is not to be compared with an non-institutionalised school.



The accessibility has improved, but there is a long way to go. The legislation offers possibilities for people with disabilities, but as monitoring and right enforcement of the legislation is not good, there are many shortcomings.

The disability movement have currently not enough resources to implement awareness rising among construction firms and check the accessibility of new constructions. This is one task what the Union has a very valuable role to play.

The accessibility is in Estonian case most often understood as accessibility of built environment and transportation.

The accessibility of building is covered by the following piece of legislation:

Planning and Building Act where disabled people are mentioned separately in § 43.


Requirements for structures

(3) Rooms for public use in structures shall be accessible to and usable by persons with mobility disabilities and other disabled persons. The procedure and time limits for implementation of this requirement with respect to existing structures shall be established by the Government of the Republic.

Access to transport (in law, in practice). People with mobility impairment are entitled to purchase adapted cars with a discount. This solution is often the only possibility if the person lives in a sparsely populated area.

In bigger cities there are a few adapted (low-floor buses, in case of Tallinn, trolley-buses). The problem is that the buses move so that the schedules are impossible to know – the low-floor buses in Tallinn change routes and another problem is that the stops are not accessible – it is difficult to get onboard. The Estonian Union of Persons with Mobility Impairment has made the city government aware on the shortcomings.

Access to public websites; access to information & telecommunications technologies are the matters what currently have not been focused on so much.

Organisations representing various disabilities are lobbying for better accessibility – focusing on the accessibility needs of the group.



According to the law on Social care ( §26) are the municipalities responsible for securing equal opportunities, active participation on the society and independent living for people with disabilities. This should happen through health care, rehabilitation, training and interpretation services.

The service provision is varying very much due to the economic possibilities and the size of the municipality where the disabled person lives. The level of services is also dependent of the attitudes in the municipality.

According to the new concept of social care, it is suggested that the responsibility of disabled people in working age will be the responsibility of the national level.

The situation in connection with work and respite care for the families who take care for disabled child or an adult is worst. The services what the municipalities have to offer must be standardised, there must be more co-operation among neighbouring municipalities on offering services (as Estonian municipalities are small and services are not possible to design at each small municipality).

  • Services must be available for every person with disability, no matter where he/she lives (personal assistants, rehabilitation, assistive technologies etc.)
  • Implementation of European Structural Funds must clearly take the disability perspective into account (currently there are many areas that a narrow understanding of the needs is enforced by the implementing bodies and implementing units).

If clear definition of the services is available, the level of services would be improving.



Health sector. In the health sector there are no specific provisions for people with disabilities. The medical treatment is provided based on the needs of the person for treatment. There is a list of medicines what can be purchased on discount up to 90%.

Rehabilitation. The rehabilitation system has been reformed and is developing, but does not meet the needs of people with disabilities, as so much more rehabilitation is needed. Children with disabilities have been offered rehabilitation plans earlier, for adults rehabilitation plansand reimbursement for costs was stated up recently. Currently the funding is person-based, but as one person only can be reimbursed a smaller sum, the rehabilitation is made in groups – in order to share some of the costs. This is not an ideal situation as peoples needs vary.

1) The state budget can cover:
(1) for persons under evaluation for a level of disability or disabled persons, who have been offered a rehabilitation plan and rehabilitation according to the plan.

(2) The expenses to put together a rehabilitation plan are reimbursed if the rehabilitation plan is in accordance with the level of disability.

Assistive technologies (technical aids) are rather well provided by the government. There are at the same time major shortcomings in the rehabilitation and supportive services, what is in the responsibility of the municipalities.

1) Applying for technical aids.

Purchase, rent or services for technical aids are provided on discount.

The need of technical aids is evaluated by family doctor or special doctor, in case of complicated aids by special doctor or rehabilitation unit.

2) Lack of sufficient funding.

For many years the level of technical aids in the state budget was unchanged. In 2002 it was increased to 26,2 million (1,7 million EUR) and in 2003 due to additional budget 35,7 million (2,3 million EUR). Still in the budget for 2004 only 1,9 million EUR is calculated.

The new social care concept foresees that the amount will be 50,0 million Estonian kroon (3,2 million EUR) per year, and to put this amount in the budget for 2005 is the Estonian disability movement currently lobbying for.

3) The principle of equal treatment isn't secured

Since 2 002 the technical aids were put into competence of county level, this way aiming to secure the decision making what is closer to the beneficiaries. Unfortunately a good database mapping the needs isn't created yet. Division of the sums among the counties has created a situation where some counties can cover the needs while others have a long waiting list. As the counties have to issue calls for tenders among the companies providing selling and renting the technical aids, is this a long process.

4) The list of technical aids available on discount is outdated

As the financial possibilities are limited, the lists of technical aids haven't been updated for many years. This way equipment for computers enabling accessibility for visually impaired people and people with complex dependency needs are not included. Currently the Estonian disability movement is conducting a dialogue with the Ministry of Social Affairs to review the list based on European Union ISO standards.

5) Cost of the services

According to Decision nr. 11 of 24.01.2003, the costs are covered after that the beneficiary have covered co-financing of the technical aid (from 10 up to 80 %) even though the legislation on social care only states that co-financing can be included, but it is the matter of evaluation. Decision nr. 11 do not allow evaluation, but state fixed percentages. That means that expensive equipment (electrical wheelchairs, proteases) can even in case of only 10% co-financing appear to be impossible for the beneficiary to cover.



The needed development in the Estonian disability movement:

  • Influencing decision makers, improving the public awareness on disabled people will make us work all together. We need specialists, to influence more and more fields in the society to take the disability perspective into account.
  • Lobby for enforcement of existing legislation and transposition of EU directives into national legislation.
  • Encourage the national, regional and local bodies to invest into employment possibilities for people with disabilities. This will contribute to prevention of balanced social development of the Estonian society what is currently moving more and more towards centralisation and Tallinn-based.
  • To convince the able chairpersons to move ahead their partial interests and speak for the united disability movement – important steps to secure this have been taken. During second part of 2003 and in the beginning of 2004 the consultative committee of the disability movement have focused on improving the legislation and attitudes, and all the means must exploited to facilitate this work
  • To monitor the Estonian authorities initiatives, weather they are in accordance with the developments in European Union. In many cases the national rules and practices are interpreting the European development differently from the initial meaning.