New law promises more rights for disabled
Switzerland's 700,000 disabled people can now enjoy more rights thanks to a new law that came into force on January 1.
Two offices dealing with disability have also opened to help implement the law and offer legal advice and information.
The new law guarantees improved access to public buildings and transport - within limits.
The legislation applies to all new public buildings in Switzerland, but existing structures do not have to comply with the law until they are renovated.
It will also be a further 20 years before the improvement to public transport access is fully phased in.
Disabled groups say the law does not go far enough, but have cautiously welcomed the move as a step in the right direction.
“It’s a big step forward because until now we had to pray if we wanted to have access [to buildings] or if you wanted to fight against barriers and now we have a new law which gives us access,” said Urs Kaiser, of the Swiss Federation for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The Federal Office for Equality for Disabled People is opening its doors to coincide with the new law and will be charged with ensuring its implementation.
The Egalité Handicap office, meanwhile, will offer legal advice as well as information on disabled rights.
Caroline Klein, head of the Egalité Handicap office – jointly funded by the government and disabled groups - admits that Switzerland lags behind other countries in terms of disabled rights.
But she hopes that the law and especially the two new offices will help redress the balance.
“We hope that the information will be made public about the rights of disabled people. If people know what they can do to integrate the disabled, then we’ll go further faster,” Klein told swissinfo.
The law comes into force less than a year after more than 62 per cent of voters turned down a proposal to grant the disabled immediate access to all public buildings.
Fears about the cost of implementing such a proposal were thought to have persuaded voters to reject the initiative, which was also opposed by the government.
Currently only 30 per cent of buildings in Switzerland offer access for the disabled, a figure which puts Switzerland well behind its European neighbours.
Klein says there is still work to be done to achieve full equality for the disabled in Switzerland, but is optimistic about the future.
“Three years go in Switzerland, you didn’t have anything in the constitution about equality for disabled people - you didn’t have an office for equality, you didn’t have a law,” said Klein.
“Now in 2004 we’re starting with a law, we have two bureaux and I think these are good instruments to advance equality.”
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold
The new law:
Public transport to be adapted to the needs of the disabled over a 20-year period. But ticket machines should be altered within 10 years.
Access to all new buildings is guaranteed, but old buildings do not have to comply with the law until they are renovated.
Existing buildings are exempt if the cost of ensuring access exceeds 20% of total renovation charges.
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