Situation of persons with disabilities

Author: Anneli Habicht

Key topics

  • Submitting of the shadow report of the UN Convention to the UN by the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People
  • Creating a monitoring mechanism for the UN Convention with the Chancellor of Justice’s office
  • The Equal Treatment Act continues to discriminate against disabled persons
  • The situation of disabled people’s rights on the local government level is uneven and weak
  • Problems with involuntary treatment and placing in a closed institution continue

Political and institutional developments

By mid-2019 there were more than 157,000 persons with disabilities living in Estonia, making up 12% of the population.[1]

The situation in the area of rights of persons with disabilities in Estonia has somewhat improved in 2018–2019 comparison to the period of the previous report. This assessment is primarily based on legalising the mechanism for reviewing compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[2] As of 1 January 2019 the Chancellor of Justice is carrying out the tasks stemming from Article 33 of the UN Convention regarding implementation, protection and monitoring of the Convention.[3]

On 1 March 2018 the Estonian Chamber of Disable People published the long Estonian version of the shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,[4] on 13 February 2019 the shadow report was submitted to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[5] The report draws attention to the problem areas in implementing the Un Convention and also makes recommendations for solving them. On 9 April 2019 the representatives of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People met with the members of the Committee in order to present the report and answer the Committee’s questions. A representative of the Chancellor of Justice also participated in the meeting. After acquainting with the state’s report[6] and the shadow report the Committee drew up recommendations, which the state is to reply to by spring of 2020.[7] Many of the issues discussed in the shadow report as well as in this article have been covered in the recommendations for the state.

People with disabilities are still waiting for a smoother way for dealing with the e-state. Even though the Estonian National Social Insurance Board has taken steps to improve the situation the results have not become tangible for persons with disabilities. The exchange of information available to the state between various authorities rests on the shoulders of those who need help, a number of applications have to be filled out to receive assistance. This means a significant cost in time and energy for the people.

The services provided by the local governments often do not meet the real needs of people with disabilities in terms of access, volume or content.[8] Receiving the local government’s social services, such as a personal assistant, a support person or social transport is unfairly dependent on the disabled person’s own capacity to seek the necessary assistance when it should primarily depend on the need for assistance. One of the obstacles is the high rate of cost-sharing in paying for social services – 48% at the local government level and 13% at the state level.[9]

The home customization measure,[10] which launched in 2018, has helped improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, but it has not been flexible enough for all of those in need.

Article 12 of the UN Convention was ratified in Estonia along with the declaration.[11] Estonia has taken it upon itself to continue the practice, according to which the court may designate a guardian for a person with restricted active legal capacity.[12] Although current law prioritizes ward’s rights, the exercise of the person’s passive legal capacity and active legal capacity within the meaning of the UN Convention [13] The UN’s recommendations also emphasise the need to consider withdrawing the declaration and to move from the principle of replaced decision-making towards supported decision-making, which values the autonomy of the disabled person.[14]

Unfortunately, not all polling divisions were accessible to people with disabilities at Riigikogu and European Parliament elections in spring of 2019. Persons with disabilities must also have the right to decide on the method of voting – whether they want to exercise the right to vote by going to the polling division, by e-voting or calling the ballot box to their home.[15]

Legislative developments

In addition to legalising the monitoring of the UN Convention, which lead to creating a council of people with disabilities with the office of the Chancellor of Justice,[16] on 3 June 2018 also the accessibility regulation, which had been delayed for three years, was introduced.[17]

As of 1 January 2018, the Data Protection Inspectorate monitors compliance with website and mobile application requirements,[18] and as of 1 January 2019, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority checks the conformity with requirements stemming from special needs of persons with disabilities of the buildings aimed at providing services for the public.[19]

A day-care and week-care service for adults with intellectual disabilities was launched, and the service of supporting daily life of autism spectrum disorder was designed to suit their needs. Both alleviate the still severe shortage of specific services.[20] As new services improving independent life of persons with sensory disabilities, in 2018 the National Social Insurance Board launched the services of guide dogs, writing interpreters and long-distance sign language translation.[21]

The principle of funding for technical aids that is in force from 2019 ensures that a technical aid is provided to each eligible person until the end of financial year.[22] Technical aids are also provided to a larger extent than before to persons living at social welfare institutions. As of 1 July 2018, the paid care leave stated in the Employment Contracts Act[23] came into force, which extends only to family members of an adult with a profound disability, who have a contract of employment.

Accessibility of persons with disabilities to free dental care expanded considerably. As of 1 January 2019, the health insurance fund will pay for dental services for persons with mental and physical disabilities with lacking dental hygiene capacity.[24]

Yet another stalling instance of amendment of the Equal Treatment Act in 2018 has a negative effect. The act establishes a hierarchy where the widest protection from discrimination is afforded on the basis of nationality, race or skin colour, and a lower degree of protection is afforded on the basis of religion, beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People has in the period of 2015–2018 made repeated recommendations for amending the act, so that persons with disabilities would be afforded protection for instances of discrimination in education, social welfare, social security, access to goods and services offered to the public, including in housing. Until now the Equal Treatment Act does not treat persons with disabilities equally to all, which is what the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also refers to.[25]

The Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act in force as of 1 February 2018 brought about changes in organisation of inclusive education.[26] The amendment does contribute to including children with less severe disabilities in education, but does not provide access of children with greater assistance needs to the inclusive, good quality free basic and secondary education on equal basis with other members of community as stated in the UN Convention. For example, teaching children who need one-on-one tutoring does not fit into the so-called bounty coefficient “4” established in regular schools, which, in comparison to the previous version of the act represents a three-and-a-half-time decrease. The proportion of children studying at specialized schools has decreased, but their inclusion in regular schools has been a very slow process. The schools don’t have a sufficient number of teachers, assistant teachers or support specialists[27] with the necessary skills, and neither do the kindergartens.[28]

The slow development of accessible public transport still creates obstacles for people with disabilities. Even though the Public Transport Act promises to support the acquisition of adapted public transport vehicles or adapting them from the state budget, it is not mandatory. For example, most of the buses serving the routes between counties are inaccessible to wheelchair users.[29] The Chancellor of Justice has also brought attention to the problem of inaccessibility of public transport.[30]

Citizens of Tallinn with disabilities have expressed annoyance at the 1 July 2019 Tallinn City Council regulation governing social transport. The conditions of the regulation for obtaining social transport, for example the requirement of using technical aid, do not make it possible to assess a person’s actual need for assistance. Also, the Northern Tallinn city government has found that, when handling a challenge from a person with a disability, that the purpose of social assistance is not to only assist those persons who use the aid mentioned in the regulation for moving about, but all persons with reduced mobility who are disabled.[31]

As a positive development, on 13 February 2019 Riigikogu decided to significantly increase the support (which had remained unchanged since 2006) for disabled children as of 1 January 2020.[32]

Court practice

The Supreme Court 5 September 2019 judgment states that the judgments for assessment of work ability and degree of disability have to be reasoned in such a way that the person is able to understand the judgments. “Clarification does not mean copying an act of law in the administrative act, but making it clear to the person. Justification of an administrative act is essential to ensure that the addressee of the act understands why it was done”, states the Supreme Court.[33]

The Supreme Court has also passed two judgments, which explain the differences of special welfare service and coercive treatment. The court found that the Social Welfare Act does not give rise to the right of the welfare institution to provide coercive treatment to a person who stays there. In the assessment of the Supreme Court, only a person who does not require psychiatric treatment against their will can be placed in the special welfare service.[34]

There are local governments, where the acts governing provision of compulsory social services are not in concordance with the constitution. For example, the Chancellor of Justice has appealed to the Supreme Court with a request to repeal a number of provisions of Narva City Council regulations governing compulsory social services. By 20 September 2019 the Supreme Court had not yet passed the judgment. The judgment may have a significant effect on the allocation of duties between the state and the local authorities.[35]

Statistics and surveys

The most important survey in the field in the period in question was the shadow report on implementation of the UN Convention.[36]

Karin Hanga’s doctoral thesis[37] defended at Tallinn University dissects the problem of increase in the number and proportion of people with disabilities in society and the need for evidence-based policy measures. The practical value of the thesis is the evaluation method, which was adopted by the Estonian National Social Insurance Board.[38]

Good practices

It is significant that on the initiative of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, the 2019 general song and dance celebration along with the television broadcasts was, for the first time, adapted to be accessible for people with hearing and visual disabilities.[39] The initiative is expected to serve as a worthy example for organisers of cultural events.

Initiatives related to human rights aspects that have not yet been addressed in Estonia much include the project of the Estonian Human Rights Centre “Cooperation between police and non-governmental organisations to combat hate crimes in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania”, which aims to figure out the nature of hate crimes and combat against them,[40] and the project of the non-profit association Eluliin and Eesti Vaimupuudega Inimeste Tugiliit for noticing victims of trafficking in human beings who have disabilities, and primary intervention therein.[41]

A high level accessibility task force has been set up with the Government Office,[42] and the Ministry of Social Affairs has initiated test projects, which include care coordination, social transport, and services for children with special needs and special person-centric welfare services.[43] On the Ministry of Social Affairs’ order, in 2019, an analysis of accessibility of main public transport hubs was launched, which also includes calculating the cost of making the necessary adjustments.[44] It is too early to estimate the effect of the projects, but if they succeed it will facilitate more effective protection of rights of people with disabilities on both the national as well as the local government level.

As a stand-out event Eesti Naisliit awarded their mother of the year recognition in 2018 to the head of Eesti Invaspordi Liit (Estonian Union of Sports for Disabled) Signe Falkenberg.[45]

Noteworthy public discussions

Deinstitutionalisation has caused the most discussion. It is an attempt to bring assisting of adults who need support because of a disability from large care homes into forms that resemble regular life. While most local communities where new services are being established have taken a supportive view, in Keila, Paide, Antsla and Märjamaa the opposition has manifested itself from collecting signatures to turning to court.[46] Narva city government took the view that people with psychiatric special needs can be dangerous to others and therefore special care homes should be located outside the city.[47] The voice of people with disabilities in public discussions is amplified by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Hoolekandeteenused AS and the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.[48]


The increased awareness and activity of people with disabilities at protecting their rights has become apparent as a trend. For example, the number of respective appeals to the Chancellor of Justice has increased from 62 in 2018 to 67 in the first seven months of 2019.[49] There were 28 applications to the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner in 2018, and 40 applications in the first eight months of 2019.[50]

The non-profit organisation Händikäpp launched a project in 2019 for advising and representing people with disabilities in court, who have problems communicating with the social system. With help from the project, ten visually impaired persons submitted a claim to the state in relation to the fact that they were unable to use the DigiDoc4 software without outside assistance for seven months. The claim was rejected, after which they turned to the Tallinn Administrative Court.[51] The state did not accept the non-patrimonial claim, but did offer a compromise as a sign of good will, according to which the persons bringing the claim provide the Information System Authority with a name of a non-profit organisation, which would receive 5550 euros in its account. According to the representative of the Information System Authority they have learned from the incident that there needs to be more communication with various interest groups. [52]

Activation of people with disabilities in protecting their rights creates preconditions for increase in awareness as well as greater inclusion of people with disabilities in society.


  • Amend the Equal Treatment Act in such a way that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination in all areas of life.
  • Ensure people with disabilities have an equal, needs-based access to social protection by implementing a uniform method for assessing the need for assistance and substantial monitoring in local governments.
  • Bring the Public Transport Act into accordance with the UN Convention.
  • Consider withdrawing the declaration set for Article 12 of the UN Convention and a move from replaced decision-making towards supported decision-making.
  • Take steps to avoid using excessive measures of restraint in psychiatry, and to ensure that administration of medicine takes place in conditions of free and informed consent.

Case description

In 2018, a person with visual disability and diabetes who uses a guide dog, turned to the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, as the state-funded training of experience counsellors for people with special needs was not ready to accommodate them. The applicant asked for training materials in a format that can be read with a screen reader, permission to eat during the training and to participate with the guide dog, as well as the possibility to record the training. The educator refused the accommodations by referring to the methodology of the training and excluded their participation in the training. The Commissioner found that the educator had behaved in a discriminatory manner and turned to the educator, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Centre for solutions. After lengthy negotiations, the applicant was accepted to the training and they were afforded some of the requested accommodations. The Commissioner found that, in addition to seeking compromise with the educator the state should always make it a condition to consider the needs of people with special needs in sharing public funding.[53]


[1] Estonian National Social Insurance Board. (2019).

[2] Riigikogu. 2006. Puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsioon ja fakultatiivprotokoll [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol].

[3] Riigikogu. 1999. Õiguskantsleri seadus [Chancellor of Justice Act].

[4] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis. ÜRO puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni täitmise variraport [Life of people with disabilities in Estonia. The shadow report on implementing the UN Convention].

[5] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[6] OHCHR. 2015. Initial report submitted by Estonia under article 35 of the Convention, due in 2014.

[7] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[8] Rasu, A. 2017. Sotsiaalteenuste arendamine maakondades 2016–2020 [Development of social services in counties 2016–2020], Läänemaa Arenduskeskus.

[9] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2018. Erivajadusega inimeste poliitika põhimõtete ja abistamise kaasajastamise alusanalüüs [Fundamental analysis of principles of policies for people with special needs and modernisation of assistance].

[10] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2019. Erihoolekande teenuskohtade loomine ja puudega inimeste eluruumide kohandamine [Creating special care service sites and customization of dwellings of people with disabilities].

[11] Riigikogu. 2006. Puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsioon ja fakultatiivprotokoll [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol].

[12] Perekonnaseadus [Family Law Act]. https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/109052017029

[13] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[14] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[15] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Annual Report of the Chancellor of Justice 2018/2019].

[16] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsler kutsub kokku puuetega inimeste nõukoja [Chancellor of Justice to call into being the council of people with disabilities].

[17] Riigikogu. 2018. Puudega inimeste erivajadustest tulenevad nõuded ehitisele [Requirements on buildings stemming from special needs of people with disabilities].

[18] Riigikogu. 2018. Avaliku teabe seadus [Public Information Act]. State Gazette.

[19] Riigikogu. Ehitusseadustik [Building Code].

[20] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2017. Raske ja sügava intellektihäirega täisealistele luuakse päeva- ja nädalahoid [Day-care and week-care for adults with severe and profound intellectual disabilities to be created], 13 November 2017

[21] Estonian National Social Insurance Board. 2018. Abivahendid [Technical aids].

[22] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2017. Uus rahastamispõhimõte toob järgnevatel aastatel abivahendite hüvitamisse olulises mahus lisaraha [The new principle for funding to bring considerable extra money to compensating for technical aids in coming years], 17 April 2017.

[23] Riigikogu. 2018. Töölepingu seadus [Employment Contracts Act].

[24] Riigikogu. 2018. Eesti Haigekassa tervishoiuteenuste loetelu [List of health services of the health insurance fund].

[25] OHCHR. 2019. List of issues in relation to the initial report of Estonia.

[26] Riigikogu. 2017.  Põhikooli- ja gümnaasiumiseaduse muutmise ning sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus 519 SE[The act amending the basic schools and upper secondary schools act and other related acts].

[27] Uuringu raport: Räis, M. L., Kallaste, E., Sandre, S.-L. 2016. Haridusliku erivajadusega õpilaste kaasava hariduskorralduse ja sellega seotud meetmete tõhusus [Efficiency of educational organisation measures and related measures for inclusion of educational special needs students].

[28] Chancellor of Justice. 2019.  Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2018/2019 [Annual Report of the Chancellor of Justice 2018/2019].

[29] The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Shadow report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Estonian Chamber of Disabled People.

[30] Chancellor of Justice. 2019. Õiguskantsleri pöördumine Riigikogu majandus- ja sotsiaalkomisjoni poole Juurdepääs ühistranspordile[Inquiry of the Chancellor of Justice to the Riigikogu committee on economic and social affairs. Access to public transport].

[31] Social welfare department of Põhja-Tallinn local government decision 14 August 2019 no 19-04553.

[32] Riigikogu. 2019.  Puuetega inimeste sotsiaaltoetuste seadus [Social Benefits for Disabled Persons Act].

[33] Supreme Court. 3-17-1110.

[34] Supreme Court. 2-18-5670 and 1-10-8154.

[35] Chancellor of Justice. 2018. Õiguskantsleri taotlus tunnistada Narva linnas kohustuslikke sotsiaalteenuseid reguleerivad määrused kehtetuks põhiseadusvastases osas [Chancellor of Justice’s application to repeal the regulations governing compulsory social services in city of Narva insofar as they are unconstitutional].

[36] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2018. Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis. ÜRO puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni täitmise variraport [Life of people with disabilities in Estonia. The shadow report on implementing the UN Convention].

[37] Hanga, K. 2018. Developing an Initial Social Rehabilitation Needs Assessment Procedure and the Scope of Rehabilitation Services for Persons with Disabilities in Estonia.

[38] Tallinn University. 2018. Karin Hanga pälvis oma teadustööga riiklikul konkursis 3600-eurose peapreemia [Karin Hanga awarded 3600 euro grand prize at a national competition with her research work], 11 December 2018.

[39] Estonian Chamber of Disabled People. 2019. Laulu-ja tantsupeo minu arm ligipääsetavus [Accessibility to the song and dance festival], 20 September 2019.

[40] Estonian Human Rights Centre. 2018. Politsei- ja vabaühenduste koostöö vaenukuritegudega võitlemiseks Eestis, Lätis ja Leedus.

[41] Non-profit association Eluliin.

[42] Government Office. 2019. Ligipääsetavuse rakkerühm [Accessibility task force]

[43] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2014. Struktuurivahendid sotsiaalvaldkonnas [Structural means in the social field].

[44] Ministry of Social Affairs. 2019. Transpordi ja tehiskeskkonna ligipääsetavuse analüüs [Analysis of access to transport and artificial environment].

[45] Eesti Naisliit. Aasta emad [Mothers of the year].

[46] Mallene, L. 2019. Keila elanikud läksid puudega inimeste kodu pärast kohtusse. „Mitte meie naabrusesse!” [Citizens of Keila went to court over home for people with disabilities. “Not in our neighbourhood!”], Delfi, 09 January 2019.

[47] Nikolajev, J. 2019. Narva linn tõrjub erihooldekodu linnast välja [City of Narva pushes special care homes out of town], ERR, 05 August 2019.

[48] Habicht, A. 2019. Vuih, puudega inimene! [Ugh, a person with disabilities!], Postimees, 13 August 2019.

[49] Office of the Chancellor of Justice.

[50] Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner

[51] Liive, R. 2019. Nägemispuudega inimesed esitasid vigase ID-kaardi tarkvara tõttu riigile 10 000-eurose nõude [Visually impaired people presented a 10,000 euro claim to the state due to the faulty ID-card software]. Delfi, 31 July 2019.

[52] Liive, R. 2019. Riik sõlmis hea tahte märgiks nägemispuudega inimestega kompromissi [State made a compromise with visually impaired people as a sign of good will], geenius.ee, 08 November 2019

[53] Office of Gender Equality and Equal Treatment


  • Anneli Habicht oli Eesti Puuetetega Inimeste Koja tegevjuht aastatel 2015–2021. Ta on ÜRO Puuetega inimeste õiguste konventsiooni rakendamise variraporti „Puuetega inimeste eluolu Eestis“ (2018) kaasautor ja –toimetaja ning käsiraamatu „Teekond erilise lapse kõrval“ (2016) kaasautor.  Anneli on omandanud magistrikraadi cum laude Tallinna Ülikoolis andragoogika erialal 2015. aastal, tema magistritöö teema oli „Erivajadustega üliõpilaste kogemused kõrgkooliõpingutest“.