Andrea Westerlund is the new chairwoman of Steg för Steg since the beginning of this year. Steg för Steg (Step by Step in English) is Finland’s only Swedish-speaking association for and with people with intellectual disabilities.
Why did you want to get involved in Steg för Steg?
What the association stands for is close to my heart. I’m passionate about the same issues and want to work for them. For me, it is important that Steg för Steg works with and for those of us who have an intellectual disability, not the relatives, and that the board also consists of us.
Why did you want to be the chairwoman of Steg för Steg?
I thought I would be a good fit for chairwoman. I have the personality traits I need. Moreover, I think that sometimes a woman is needed at the helm.
What are you looking forward to in the new mission?
That together we bring about both large and small positive changes in society that benefit people with intellectual disabilities.
What kind of chairwoman do you want to be?
I will be fair, patient, responsive, firm and humble. I listen to everyone so that everyone’s questions, opinions and thoughts are heard and highlighted.
What do you think is Steg för Steg’s most important task?
The most important thing is to make sure that everyone with intellectual disabilities is welcome and comfortable in our association. That we are a large family that contributes to both large and small changes for us in society – together.
What issues do you want to raise?
I want to work on fair pay and anti-bullying.
Do you have a paid job yourself?
I work in a nursing home crafting, painting nails, puzzles, going out or just sitting and talking to elderly people. For that, I get paid, but not a regular salary. This means for example I will be without compensation if I get sick. We should get the same hourly wage as someone else who works in the same place.
You also want to work with anti-bullying, do you have experience of bullying yourself?
Yes, it really started in kindergarten, where it was not so serious. It got worse in elementary school. I talked a lot with my sister about the bullying and she sometimes walked between the bullies and me. We also talked to the school about the bullying, but they didn’t know at all how to solve it. The bullying didn’t end until I graduated from elementary school. In addition, I have been bullied in the workplace and I was often left out from the Scouts’ activities. In the end, I resigned from work and stopped going to the Scouts.
What trace has the bullying left with you?
I find it hard to trust people. I’m still afraid others will think I’m weird. I have processed the bullying and gained more self-confidence, but it has taken many years. I thought for a long time that the ugly things the bullies said about me were true.
What can Steg för Steg do to stop bullying?
There is bullying both in schools and workplaces, in leisure activities and in society in general. I think we should target schools and workplaces and teach them about what bullying does to people. That the bullies literally destroy people’s lives with their mean words and actions.
What’s your message to people who get bullied?
You should tell about it to everyone you can trust. You should talk about it every time it happens and tell them how it makes you feel. There are also online services where you can remain anonymous. Those who work there usually have their own experience of bullying so they believe in you and understand you. I would also like to say that you are not alone and that you probably get out of it, even if it takes time.
Text: Matilda Hemnell Photo: Sofia Jernström.
Steg för Steg is Finland’s only Swedish-speaking association for and with people with intellectual disabilities. Steg för Steg is one of the FDUV‘s member associations and works to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are heard and seen in society. Members learn about their rights, talk about their experiences and decide on things that are important to them. The basic idea of the association is equality, participation and human rights for all.
Steg för Steg is a member of EPSA/Inclusion Europe.