Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: there’s still much to be done

15.05.2024 The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force ten years ago. Switzerland pledged to eliminate obstacles faced by people with impairments. How much progress has been made so far?

One-fifth of the Swiss population lives with an impairment, many of whom experience considerable restrictions in everyday life. In a press release at the end of 2023, the federal government wrote that much progress has been made in recent years, particularly in terms of access to buildings and public transport. The umbrella organisations for the disabled take a much more critical view of what has been achieved. How can this discrepancy be explained?

What does ‘inclusion’ mean?

The core guiding principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is inclusion, i.e. the equal participation of all people in all areas of social life. This is based on a new understanding of disability: people with an impairment are not simply ‘disabled’ – they only become ‘dis-abled’ because they face obstacles in important areas of life that make it difficult for them to live like everyone else (cf., 2020).

The rights described in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are correspondingly comprehensive. They include mobility and access to buildings but also much more. For example, they also involve equal treatment in the areas of social security, housing, education, labour, political rights and access to justice. Many of these areas are the responsibility of the cantons.

Broad expertise of BFH

BFH has supported multiple projects in the area of disability in recent years. BFH lecturer Matthias von Bergen was involved in a study on the financing models of residential programmes, commissioned by the Federal Office for the Equality of Persons with Disabilities, the Federal Social Insurance Office and the Cantonal Conference of Social Directors*. Commenting on the effect that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has had on Switzerland, the expert says:

“It has triggered a dynamic process and a rethink. The federal government, cantons and institutions are beginning to align themselves to this new understanding. So far, the rethink has taken place primarily in the area of housing. In some cases, new funding systems have also been created to enable more services to be provided outside of institutions. But this is scarcely reflected in the offers available today. There’s still plenty of room for improvement until we have achieved inclusion.”

So far, the rethink has taken place primarily in the area of housing.

Matthias von Bergen
Matthias von Bergen Lecturer

Beginning in 2021, Matthias von Bergen and his colleagues supported a project run by the three industry associations CURAVIVA Switzerland, INSOS Switzerland and Anthrosocial, which exists to promote inclusive housing for people with mental disabilities. The project defines inclusion in the area of housing as being able to choose how and where you want to live and to decide who you want to live with. One expert interviewed for the project described her personal experience of the hurdles involved in finding a flat as follows:

“The biggest problem is getting accepted for a flat in the first place. You might view four or five flats, and then you’re so frustrated that you don’t really want to look at any more. That’s the dilemma in which I wish there was more support.”

The BFH analysis showed that there are some good examples of such support, one being WohnenBern. This institution offers inclusive living in the city of Bern with varying levels of support and care, the aim of which is to restore or strengthen the residents’ individual living skills. In spring 2023, Managing Director Karin Hoffmann said:

“For some years now, we have noticed that the demand for private housing and microflats is very much on the rise compared with shared housing and institution-like settings.”

The examples and recommendations for action researched by the BFH are summarised on a website, which is aimed at institutions, specialists, caretakers, tenants and people looking for accommodation. In the project, Matthias von Bergen and his colleagues also got to grips with the question of how projects can be financed. They saw what is called ‘subject financing’ as a possible way forward.

Work lagging some way behind

In the cantons of Bern and Zurich, laws have recently come into force that prescribe ‘subject financing’ in the area of housing. This means that in future, the authorities will no longer pay care allowances to the institutions that provide accommodation but directly to the people with disabilities who are in need of support. In other words, they receive a personal budget. It remains to be seen whether this step will lead to more inclusive housing options. What is clear is that there is still much to be done in the area of inclusion of people with disabilities. BFH lecturer Matthias von Bergen comments:

“In other areas, such as the work, comparatively little has happened to date. In the meantime, this was one of the areas where Switzerland was criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

This motivated Matthias von Bergen to undertake a research trip to Catalonia and Finland, among other places. He sought inspiration for new projects in six countries and around 30 institutions, this time in the area of work. His conclusion: there are many different routes and many different project strategies. Some dedicated people have managed to utilise the full scope for action for their institution and successfully created offerings that are very much appreciated by people with an impairment. Applying his discoveries to Switzerland, the BFH expert says:

“One way Switzerland could achieve greater inclusion in the area of work would be to provide people with disabilities who work in the general labour market with a job coach to support them long-term.”



*Fritschi, Tobias, von Bergen, Matthias, Müller, Franziska, Lehmann, Olivier, Pfiffner, Roger, Kaufmann, Cornel & Hänggeli, Alissa. (2022). Financial flows and financing models in the area of housing for people with disabilities. Final report for the attention of the EBGB, the BSV and the SODK. Bern: Bern University of Applied Sciences

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