[Nfb-seniors] Life for the blind in Norway! An article
Robert Leslie Newman
robertleslienewman at gmail.com
Fri Mar 2 18:51:41 UTC 2018
Do you ever wonder what life for the blind looks like for blind citizens of
other countries? Here is an article written by a blind person in Norway
about life and conditions in his country.
I got this article from a newsletter, "The Blind Perspective."
The Blind Perspective <http://www.theblindperspective.com/>
Subscribe by sending an email to: TheBlindPerspective+subscribe at groups.io
<mailto:theblindperspective+subscribe at groups.io>
By Linn Martinussen
Karen at TheBlindPerspective.com <mailto:karen at theblindperspective.com>
A bit about Norway:
Norway is a country situated in Northern Europe and is part of Scandinavia.
It's large in size, but has a small population of about five million people.
Norway is extremely wealthy due to the discovery of crude oil in 1969 and
ranks top on the UN's list of countries with the best standard of living.
Schools for the blind were phased out during the 1980s. As someone who
started school in 1992, I was among the first batch of blind students to be
integrated into the public school system. I don't know why the schools were
phased out, but I can imagine that with such a small population, the schools
weren't exactly over populated. Besides, sending children away to reside in
a school far away from their families at the age of seven was seen as quite
Braille & Mobility:
After the closure of all residential schools for the blind, what had
previously been schools, turned in to resource centres which provided
Braille and mobility lessons to teachers in mainstream schools, as well as
directly to blind students. For example, my mainstream teacher, I had a
separate one from the class, but was still in class for most of the time,
taught me Braille and mobility, but I also had visits from the resource
centres. These centres also held annual courses for blind students to make
sure we had all the skills we needed and didn't lag behind our classmates.
Sports & Recreation:
There are sports clubs for blind people and for people with other
disabilities, but blind people usually have their own. For example, there
are running clubs with volunteer guide runners. There used to be a Goalball
team, but it has dissolved. The Norwegian Association for the blind,
especially its youth organization, arrange a lot of sports activities
however on weekends away at holiday and activity centres for the blind
around the country. These are quite varied from Yoga and pilates to skiing.
Blind people are encouraged to get a higher education. Higher education in
Norway is free, and blind students get braille displays, unlimited hours to
employ a reader or secretary, doing all the visual aspects of uniwork. So in
principle education should be a breeze. Especially since the Norwegian
Library for the blind (NLB) now provide ebooks which are fast to produce.
However, it's not always possible for students to read and research as
easily as their sighted counterparts, but I personally believe that the
solution to making university easier for a blind person, is to have better
guidelines about what to read so it is easier to do well with a smaller
number of books.
Unfortunately, getting a job is not very easy in Norway due to bad
attitudes, or little knowledge of blind people by employers. In a survey
conducted in 2008, employers were asked who they'd rather employ. A
convicted Somali, a lesbian woman, a gay man, a wheelchair user and so on
and ranking bottom was a blind woman without a guide dog. Unfortunately not
much has changed since then. I was forced to move back to Norway from the UK
because of family stuff. Having worked a few years in the BBC and with a
master's degree under my belt, I thought I wouldn't be unemployed for long.
However, three years later and I have now decided to leave Norway because
I'm getting nowhere. Although blind people are encouraged to get educated,
they're also encouraged to get straight onto benefits once they're finished.
This trend is slowly changing, but the change is very slow and there are
problems with blind ghetto cultures and alcoholism among blind individuals
who could hold at least part time work.
For people who are more disabled, there are special taxis. For the blind,
there is not, but we do get taxi cards and use public transport on familiar
With cabs, there is a fixed fare for a ride, though there are some
variations on this around the country. In most counties you can only use
your taxi card inside that county. So if I travel to another town, I can't
get reduced fares.
Public buses are very inaccessible because you have to press a touch button
to open the doors. However, the electronic announcements are quite good now
and Ruter, the traffic company for the Eastern part of Norway, is working on
an accessible travel app that will guide you at bus and metro stops and tell
you what bus or metro are coming. Metros are a lot easier to use as you can
feel the button for opening the doors, however it's still quite stressful to
actually locate the door, so I wish they would just open. Trams are like
buses, quite hard to use, but doable.
What really annoys me about the Norwegian transport system, especially in
Oslo, is that unlike in the UK, you can't get help to travel around the
city. So there's no assistance at the most buzzling metro stops and no way
to book it. Only if you travel by railway, can you actually book assistance,
but this has to be done 24 hours in advance which is ridiculous since you
can't always know when you're travelling. I personally only use the over
ground railway to travel between cities, so I think more local assistance
like they have in London on the underground and buses would be a huge relief
for many blind people.
If I lived in a more rural area, my problems would be a lot bigger as the
buses have no announcements and they are less frequent, so living in the
towns and cities is something most blind people tend to choose when they
We have curb cuts and tactile strips. There are audible signals at most
In train and metro stations there are tactile dots or lines to mark the
beginning and end of stairs and platforms. And in smaller towns there are
audible signals to say you're approaching a station on foot.
There are no Braille signs anywhere except numbers in lifts.
Braille can only be found in lifts and on medication. Some restaurant chains
have Braille menus, but that's rare. I also can't receive Braille
correspondence from banks and other public instances. Luckily though, Norway
is far more digitized than many other countries, so I can receive e-mails
and most menus these days are online. I do like a Braille menu though and
miss this from living in the UK.
There are three guide dog schools in Norway. Guide dogs are very popular.
They do have access to public buildings in theory, however discrimination
occur a lot.
Most blind individuals receive benefits. I fall into a rare category of
blind people who have no benefit rights because I didn't have my education
plan approved by those who are responsible for benefits. Good benefits is
really a big curse since it demotivates blind people from seeking employment
and encourage the system to keep blind people on the benefits.
This is where Norway is great. You can get everything you need due to your
blindness funded by the government regardless of whether you receive
benefits. For example, your computer won't be funded, because most people
would naturally have a computer these days. However, Braille displays and
screenreader licenses do get funded because you wouldn't have them if you
didn't have to. Canes, GPS and other practical aids you can prove you need
for the sole reason of being blind, are also always funded.
You can get Braille and audiobooks through the Norwegian Library of the
blind (NLB) for free. Audiobooks can be provided on daisy or downloaded via
an app. Braille books are printed on demand and sent in the post. It's also
possible to become a member of other countries reading services through the
NLB, such as Bookshare.
In Norway we have a national organization Norges Blindeforbund, or the
Norwegian Association of the blind. They help with everything concerning
blindness from rehabilitating people who lose their sight, to arranging
activities and holidays.
There is also a Christian organization for the blind that in some ways rival
the national association for the blind by providing many of the same
services. However, many people are members of both organizations and they
never tend to arrange activities over the same weekends.
All in all, Norway really isn't a bad country in which to be a blind person.
I get everything I need in terms of equipment and I can live comfortably
thanks to the wealth of the place. However, I do think a lot can be improved
when it comes to accessibility, work and opportunities. Attitudes needs
changing and Norway needs to become more liberal in its thinking when it
comes to solutions and trying new things.
The anti-discrimination law is not as strong as it ought to be and I think
some of the problem is that the population is so small that finding new
opportunities are hard when you're blind. I often say that if Norway had the
wealth it has paired with the forward thinking of the UK, where
accessibility is better, it would be a paradise for blind people. London is
the place in the world I considered the best place for blind people to live.
I'm glad I've been born blind in Norway and experienced such a great
superficial standard of living. Because my dream is to use my experiences
good and bad, to work to better the lives of blind people in other countries
around the world.
More information about the NFB-Seniors