Signs of the times: Swiss deaf society turns 75

Participants at a demo in Geneva in September 2018 which called for the laws concerning sign language to be applied better © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

On its 75th birthday, the Swiss Federation for the Deaf is celebrating the changes it has achieved in society. However, it says there is still work to be done, especially in French-speaking Switzerland.

This content was published on February 17, 2021 - 14:03

The federation was founded on February 17, 1946, and has notched up several successes over the years, such as subtitling on television or the right to professional interpreters, mainly in the workplace and in education. It also points to positive changes in people’s private lives, for example arrangements at weddings or funerals.

“But it’s not easy to obtain [interpreters’] services, especially in French-speaking Switzerland,” said spokeswoman Sandrine Burger. Since most of the country’s 95 interpreters are German-speakers, those in the French-speaking part of the country are very busy, she explained. What’s more, there hasn’t been a training programme in French-speaking Switzerland “for about ten years”.

Burger highlights another problem. “Disability insurance tends to want to save money and to refuse initially to pay for services to which people are entitled,” she said. “Across the political spectrum everyone says they support us, but when it comes to paying, things get more complicated.”

Initially composed of eight German-speaking associations, the Swiss Federation for the Deaf has grown and become “the voice of the deaf in Switzerland and their spearhead to gradually achieving a more egalitarian society”, it wrote on Wednesday. Deaf people have thus been able to assert their claims without depending on other associations run by hearing people.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the federation is planning to mark its 75th anniversary in 2021, Burger said. It plans to publish a book on its history in spring, hold a large gathering during the summer and put online some testimonies of people who have participated in the life of the federation.

Comments under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.