20 January 2017
"Electrohypersensitivity: A Functional Impairment Due to an Inaccessible Environment" by Professor Olle Johansson
"Some medical doctors and a few scientists still... want EHS to be a medical/psychiatric diagnosis, i.e. with patients with an undefined disease syndrome, the latter instead being the focus of medical/psychiatric treatments (thus, no automatic accessibility measures, including shielding of the environment)...
"There is much that could be done to increase accessibility: educating architects, planners, scientists, technologists and the general public more effectively about EHS, its causes and how it can be minimized... Creating work, home and general environments that are more user-friendly for EHS sufferers so that they feel included and not excluded in the rich tapestry of life...
"Forcing people with such functional impairments out into various sanctuaries or zones is completely in opposition to the UN disability laws, the Standard Rules, and it’s Convention, and could be the beginning of a terrible trend...
"How are [electrohypersensitive persons] to be able to be a normal part of the community with complete access to council offices, post offices, means of transport, cinemas, restaurants, hospital care and other facilities when electromagnetic pollution can affect them detrimentally?...
"As clearly stated by the UN (6), there must be an end to nonchalance, lack of consideration, indifference and lack of respect on the part of society for those with disabilities for all our sakes. As moral human beings we should never accept negative discriminatory treatment or an insulting special treatment of those with impairments."
Electrohypersensitivity: a functional impairment due to an inaccessible environment
DOI 10.1515/reveh-2015-0018 Received July 14, 2015; accepted November 2, 2015
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In Sweden, electrohypersensitivity is recognized as a functional impairment which implies only the environment as the culprit. The Swedish view provides persons with this impairment a maximal legal protection, it gives them the right to get accessibility measures for free, as well as governmental subsidies and municipality economic support, and to provide them with special Ombudsmen (at the municipality, the EU, and the UN level, respectively), the right and economic means to form disability organizations and allow these to be part of national and international counterparts, all with the simple and single aim to allow persons with the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity to live an equal life in a society based on equality. They are not seen as patients, the do not have an overriding medical diagnosis, but the ‘patient’ is only the inferior and potentially toxic environment. This does not mean that a subjective symptom of a functionally impaired can not be treated by a physician, as well as get sick-leave from their workplace as well as economic compensation, and already in the year 2000 such symptoms were identified in the Internal Code of Diagnoses, version 10 (ICD-10; R68.8/now W90), and have been since. But the underlying cause still remains only the environment.
A functional impairment is defined as difficulties that substantially interfere with or limit functioning in one or more major life activities including the following:
– Basic daily living skills (e.g. eating, bathing, dressing);
– Instrumental living skills (e.g. maintaining a household, managing money, getting around the community, taking prescribed medication); and
– Functioning in social, family, and vocational/educational contexts.
In health, any loss or abnormality of physiological, mental, or anatomical structure or function, whether permanent or temporary, is regarded as a functional impairment. The existence of a medical condition does not necessarily restrict functional capacity, but may form part of the underlying cause for a functional impairment. However, much more common are obstacles in our surrounding environment resulting in everyday functional impairments that all are part of being a human being in a society. Humans, and particularly children, often run into situations where the environment provides hurdles and difficulties. Such can be language barriers, educational hinders, physical, chemical or physiological blocks or toxicities, and problems of understanding. Neither one of these causes makes anyone a patient; we are all still normal healthy persons as well as citizens, and with correct avoidance or adaptive reactions to an inferior environment.
Legal, moral and ethical as well as practical consequences
As previously mentioned Sweden has officially recognized EHS as a disability. However, a lot of work still has to be carried out by the electrohypersensitive persons, as well as for them, and their disability organization, The Swedish Association for the Electrohypersensitive to achieve complete equality. Accessibility and adaptation are key issues for allowing EHS, and others with recognized functional impairments, to gain/regain their rightful independence. As is well known and well documented, such support can also benefit the entire society.
Society must recognize in practical applications the right of the electrohypersensitive to be different, to their distinguishing feature. Society must recognize the right of the electrohypersensitive to have an equal life in a society based on equality. Treating members of the community equally is not something that should be done as a favor; nor is it something that any parliament or government should politely request other inhabitants to provide others with. Equality is not something to be done “out of the goodness of one’s heart”. It is something one does because it is expected of every citizen, because inaccessibility and discrimination are prohibited by law. Thus, it is not legal to deliberately make the situation worse for persons with functional impairments.
Some medical doctors and dentists have described at an early stage the electrohypersensitive persons as “old crones in the throes of the menopause”, “the poorly educated”, “hypochondriacs”, “radiation ladies”, or victims of union-driven fears, mass media-based psychoses, imagination phenomena, Pavlovian conditioning, techno-stress alterations, etc. These prejudiced care-providers used these terms despite often never having met an electrohypersensitive person or carrying out research in the field. Unfortunately, some medical doctors and a few scientists still instead want EHS to be a medical/psychiatric diagnosis, i.e. with patients with an undefined disease syndrome, the latter instead being the focus of medical/psychiatric treatments (thus, no automatic accessibility measures, including shielding of the environment).
In January 2015, we could witness in Sweden a huge massmedia-based attack launched against persons with the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity. They were accused of not having a proper medical diagnosis, no proofs to back their claims of ill health when exposed to the moderns society’s artifical electrosmog, and so it was meant that they obviously should not be entitled to any economic support from the Swedish state.
Medical doctors (including the head of the Swedish Medical Association, Dr. Heidi Stensmyren), journalists, reporters, news anchors, and newspaper editors, all participated in this witch-hunt. This could be read in major newspapers, and heard and viewed in radio and TV channels. One Swedish medical doctor, Lena Hillert – on prime time public TV news – even introduced Santa Claus as a way of trying to ridicule persons with the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity.
The odd thing was that The Swedish Association for the Electrohypersensitive had done nothing wrong. In Sweden all disability organizations can apply for economic support, and – based on the number of members – a fixed governmental subsidy per person is granted via The National Board of Health and Welfare (Sw. ”Socialstyrelsen”).
There is much that could be done to increase accessibility: educating architects, planners, scientists, technologists and the general public more effectively about EHS, its causes and how it can be minimized; undertaking properly funded independent multidisciplinary research into EHS and showing that such work can make a difference. Creating work, home and general environments that are more user-friendly for EHS sufferers so that they feel included and not excluded in the rich tapestry of life (cf. ref. 41).
In a recent paper by Hagström et al. (42), it is concluded that “the official treatment options, psychotherapy and medication, did not have any significant effect. Instead, according to 76% of 157 respondents the reduction or avoidance of electromagnetic fields helped in their full or partial recovery. The best additional support for EHS were given as: “dietary change” (69.4%), “nutritional supplements” (67.8%) and “increased physical exercise” (61.6%)”. Their results rhyme very well with previous studies (43–46).
Also remember that forcing people with such functional impairments out into various sanctuaries or zones is completely in opposition to the UN disability laws, the Standard Rules, and it’s Convention, and could be the beginning of a terrible trend. No, instead make it easy for you – make sure to connect to all the UN texts, realize that it’s the whole environment that must be accessibilityadapted, and do not forget that such accessibility measures actually are 100% positive for everyone to share. People with functional impairments should have full access to the entire society, not just a small part of it.
It is proposed that, as with those with other recognized disabilities, the electrohypersensitive persons must therefore, in every situation and by all available means, demand respect, representation and power. They shall very clearly reject all approaches which reflect a mentality of “feeling pity for them” or “caring for them” by introducing flimsy medical diagnostic criteria and ‘treatments’ based on cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, vitamines, minerals, and massage (!). Inaccessibility is not a personal problem. It is a problem for society. Inaccessibility is not about attitudes. It is about discrimination. And discriminatory actions and conduct shall not be dealt with by well-meaning talk about treatment. Discrimination is already illegal!
In addition, to all such well-meaning medical/psychological treatments there is a potentially very dark backside: The possibly induced long-term health effect of any given treatment. I discussed it for the first time already back in the mid-80s when it was suggested that cognitive therapy should be used to ‘teach’ EHS persons that computers and computer screens were completely “safe”. I then asked the clinical dermatologists and psychologists (who were in charge of that particular project) who would take the personal responsibility for future long-term health effects, such as cancer, in these employees. But no one stepped forward.
The former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has declared that 2010 should be the final target year for the “Swedish Disability Action Plan” – “From patient to citizen” – adopted in 2000, according to which the whole of Sweden is to be completely adapted to those with disabilities (7). In addition, there is the EU “Human Rights Act” and the UN “Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities”, nowadays updated to the UN “Convention on Human Rights for Persons with Functional Impairments” (6).
One of the most important ideas in these documents is the “principle of accessibility” stating that people with disabilities are to have full access to public services. This is the basis for the fast introduction in Sweden and other countries of kneeling buses, wheelchair ramps, hearing loops, automatic door-openers, beveled pavement edges, etc. However, it has to be asked where are the measures for the electrohypersensitive persons?
How are they to be able to be a normal part of the community with complete access to council offices, post offices, means of transport, cinemas, restaurants, hospital care and other facilities when electromagnetic pollution can affect them detrimentally? Providing every electrohypersensitive person with individually designed assistance, good care and stimulation to create participation in the community are very responsible tasks that require a high level of skill.
Considerably greater demands must be made on education, training and work supervision than has been the case to date. Sharing experiences between different activities must take place much more smoothly and in a way that is completely free of prestige.
People with the disability EHS have an exciting future ahead of them. Work has already started to produce results on a number of these issues, including building planning and construction (44). However, a lot more can and must be done. There are still many years of hard, constructive and consistent work waiting. I hope that everyone with the functional impairment EHS all over the world can find a common platform for this work, and help move the work forward through community and solidarity in the interdisciplinary work that is required.
It is now so important for everyone to decide on the continued direction of their activities as well as their focus and for people to work together with integrity as a team. A continued energetic action plan for the next few months and years together with a broad collaboration with other disability associations are of the utmost importance here. As clearly stated by the UN (6), there must be an end to nonchalance, lack of consideration, indifference and lack of respect on the part of society for those with disabilities for all our sakes. As moral human beings we should never accept negative discriminatory treatment or an insulting special treatment of those with impairments.
An equal life in a society based upon equality
When it comes to functional impairments, it is always only action that speaks, nothing else. To ensure that everyone acts within the UN Human Rights Convention is of paramount importance, and that persons with EHS is promptly given complete accessibility is the only acceptable goal, as is proper symptom identification and treatment when possible, but only when asked for by the disabled person Himself/Herself. However, the latter should never be used instead of the first.
Finally, to water the existing legislation down would make matters far worse for all the persons with EHS and/or multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), as well as for their relatives. Therefore one must question attempts to move EHS from the functional impairment paradigm to the patient/disease one. It took me, and others, decades to get the EHS persons the protection of The UN 22 Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities/The UN Convention on Human Rights for Persons with Functional Impairments. It will take less than a minute to destroy this. Mark my words.
The world is watching what we do, and we have the opportunity to do the right thing. Biomedical research is of immense importance to form a potential base for further symptom relief as well as for understanding the mechanisms behind, but let it not stand in the way of the human right of persons with EHS, MCS, and other functional impairments, to live an equal life in a society based upon equality.
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