The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is saddened by the passing of Finnish politician and disability rights advocate Kalle Könkkölä on September 11. He served from 1983 to 1987 as the first member of the Finnish Parliament with a disability, developing key pieces of legislation on disability inclusion and independent living. Könkkölä was a fervent advocate for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Finland.
Könkkölä worked tirelessly for disability inclusion globally. He was active in global partnerships for disability and development, and his work emphasized the need for a robust human rights framework in disability policy. Könkkölä was instrumental to the negotiations that led to the creation of the European Disability Forum in 1996, and he founded the Abilis Foundation, an organization that promotes human rights, equal opportunities and independent living through grantmaking to disabled people’s organizations in low-income countries, in 1998.
“He is the definition of one person being able to make a difference for the world,” said IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney.
Könkkölä was a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ Expert Group on Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities, along with IFES Inclusion Advisor Virginia Atkinson. He brought a unique perspective to the working group, having firsthand experience of many aspects of political life, including running as a candidate, serving in elected office and advocating with policymakers.
“Konkkola was a role model to disabled people and others around the world. He proved that a disabled person riding in a motorized wheelchair and using a ventilator could travel all around the world in rural and urban communities to fight for the rights of disabled people. He was a visionary who was a statesman with unwavering belief that all disabled people have the right to live dignified lives and to contribute to their communities.” – Judith Heumann, Könkkölä’s long-time friend and fellow inclusion advocate