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First session for people with disabilities in the Swiss Parliament

The first session for people with disabilities is scheduled for March 24th in Berne. Four participants explain what they want to achieve there

The first session for people with disabilities is scheduled for March 24th in Berne. Four participants explain what they want to achieve there

It’s a privilege of the President of the National Assembly to invite guests for a special occasion to the National Assembly chamber in Berne. Center-politician Martin Candinas seizes this opportunity to announce the first ever session for and by people with disabilities in Switzerland. He himself has been a member of the Grisons cantonal committee of Pro Infirmis and has initiated the idea.

Initiating this idea was well timed: “The assessment of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in spring 2022 shines a poor light on the status quo of equality of persons with disabilities in Switzerland”, says Philipp Schüepp. He is the Public Affairs responsible at Pro Infirmis and explains that a resolution for participation in political life is going to be discussed during the assembly: “The resolution was prepared by the Committee for Persons with Disabilities but can be changed in every aspect via motions and votes on March 24th.”

Insight into the National Assembly chamber: the painting of the Rütli meadow by Charles Giron on the wall and the audience area with chairs and desks in the foreground.

For the first time the National Assembly chamber will be reserved for people living with disabilities on March 24th

The conference in the Swiss Parliament building is chaired by the center-oriented member of the National Council Christian Lohr. The politician from the canton of Thurgau is a so-called thalidomide victim and was born without arms and with malformed legs.

Why can exactly 44 persons attend? According to the Federal Statistical Office, 22 percent of the Swiss population live with an impairment. The National Assembly has 200 seats and this equates to 44 seats. The participants were voted in advance by the public. In this blog post four of them explain what they would like to focus on in this session. 

Giving people with disabilities a voice

Anne Hägler, born in 1968, lives with the help of assistants and the Spitex independently in Wintherthur, ZH. Due to her multiple sclerosis (MS) condition, she suffers from tetraplegia. She was once enrolled in Food Science, ETH Zurich, and today focuses specifically on diet-related questions.

Her hobbies range from culture, visiting museums, classical music, to reading and continuing education. “In my previous life, my free time was mainly filled with sports such as mountaineering and skiing as well as travelling around the world.” This has changed due to her health condition.

A portrait of Anne Hägler. She has short, dark hair, wears glasses with a black frame and a red blouse and scarf.

Anne Hägler is convinced: By working together the quality of life of all stakeholders will improve.

So far Anne Hägler was not politically active but is now advocating for her concerns. Her focus is on networking, accompanied living for people with physical impairments and impairments of the senses – and social life in general: “I would like to see the same qualitative and quantitative offer for people with disabilities as there is for seniors.” Because everyone wants to be able to live a serene, free and independent life. For this she wants to raise her voice – and be heard by policy makers.

“We are strong together – therefore I would like to see a network that functions beyond a specific health condition and disability.”

Anne Hägler

Inclusion instead of exclusion

Peter «Pesche» Buri, born in 1988, lives in Ostermundigen, BE, and is a self-employed businessman, EFZ. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy type 2, a progressive neuromuscular health condition. In addition to politics, the music lover also likes gaming, movies, ice hockey and American football, travelling and good food. “I am an affable, adventurous and honest guy with many interests.”

A portrait of Peter Buri. He wears a red baseball cap and a blue plaid shirt. He gets oxygen via a tube through the nose.

For Peter Buri it is important that people with disabilities are not reduced to their handicap.

What he advocates for is clear: an inclusive world of work in which everyone has equal opportunities. Accessible politics and accessibility in general. A welfare state in which nobody is left behind. And complete freedom of choice of accommodation – “no matter whether in your own apartment, with or without personal assistance, in a residential community, with Spitex support or in an institution.” Pesche Buri is convinced that people with disabilities must be a visible part of society.

“We have an enormous responsibility during and beyond the session – because we are spearheading our movement.”

Pesche Buri

A say in politics

Vanessa Grand, born in 1978, lives with her parents in a single-family residence in Leuk, VS, and works as journalist and singer. Furthermore she gets involved for persons with health conditions and disabilities in various organizations. She lives with brittle bone disease, loves crafting and needlework, reading and traveling.

She has had a considerable influence on policy making, indicates abuses but has no political function and is not a member of a political party. “I am of the opinion that disability is everyone’s business – and I can currently not determine a party that stands out from the others in these matters.”

A portrait of Vanessa Grand. She has red-brown, medium-long hair and wears a black jacket on top of a blackberry-colored shirt.

Vanessa Grand requests participation and autonomy – for everyone.

“Where to start is the hardest part”, she says. When dealing with the concerns of persons with disabilities, many demands are directly interconnected. However, the health system certainly plays a main role, as well as mobility: “If public transportation is not accessible, then also access to schools, work, leisure time activities and doctor’s appointments are limited massively.”

Vanessa Grand pleads for a say in politics. “If we have no say in the law-making process, decisions are always made over our heads. This must not happen!”

“Those who are not visible, don’t exist. But 22 percent of the Swiss population live with a disability!”

Vanessa Grand

Less bureaucracy, more humanity

Martin Jaussi, born in 1966, lives with his partner in Baar, ZG, and used to be a master carpenter before he took over a company and became independent. Already at a young age, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; and due to health issues, his work shifted more and more toward administrative tasks. “I like to be among people and enjoy company.” Reading is one of his hobbies.

A portrait picture of Martin Jaussi. He sits in his electric wheelchair at home, has short grey hair and a sweater around his shoulders.

Martin Jaussi is already involved in the canton of Zug; he now looks forward to getting involved on the national level.

Born in Berne, he is heavily involved as a member of the Working Group for Persons with Disabilities, and in Central Switzerland he is the contact person at InVIEdual, a counselling center for questions around assistance.

Martin Jaussi has a lot of knowledge about this topic – based on his own experience. He himself lived in a care home for several years until a newly created care network consisting of his partner, five female and one male assistant, including night care, made it possible for him to live in his own place.

This also made him become an employer with everything that’s involved. And this means a lot of bureaucracy, above all, and some incomprehensible political hurdles: “I know affected people who were simply overwhelmed with this undertaking.”

This must not happen because with the necessary administrative support and a simpler process, living autonomously is very well possible. “This is what I want to advocate for and encourage others to follow me.” This also requires sufficient wheelchair-accessible apartments that are affordable.

“Especially young people should not have to live in a care home – they should be a central part of society.”

Martin Jaussi

Which political improvements are required for people with disabilities? Where do you see a need for action?

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