On the national level, the Swiss Federal Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities (Disability Discrimination Act, DDA) provides the following definition of a person with a disability: “[…] a person who, due to a physical, mental or psychological impairment which is likely to be permanent, finds it difficult or is unable to carry out everyday tasks, cultivate social contacts, move around, obtain an education or training, or work.”
The DDA “lays down general conditions that make it easier for people with disabilities to participate in society […] and to have access to basic and advanced education and training and to employment”. The DDA explicitly also applies to education (Art. 3 (f)).
Education (including higher education) constitutes a matter of cantonal (not national) legislation. In addition, higher education institutions are autonomous bodies with their own individual rules and regulations. These are the reasons why there is no national definition for disability in higher education in place.
In line with the definition above, cantons and higher education institutions all have their own procedures. However, all competent authorities (i.e. the cantons and the higher education institutions) are obligated to provide special support to disabled persons in order to prevent, reduce or eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Federal Constitution Art. 8, Paragraph 2: “No person may be discriminated against, in particular on grounds of origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, way of life, religious, ideological, or political convictions, or because of a physical, mental or psychological disability”, and Paragraph 4: “The law shall provide for the elimination of inequalities that affect persons with disabilities”.
Most higher education institutions have a specific contact person for students with disabilities (student advisor). These advisors are responsible for coordinating, recognising and assisting persons (students and higher education staff) with disabilities and discussing special accommodations. In order to be recognised as a person with a disability, medical documentation and/or documentation issued by a disability insurance provider (if applicable) is generally required.
Measures for assistance can include:
– providing the individual a personal assistant
– adjustments to courses and examinations
– extension of deadlines
– improved access to infrastructure, buildings, housing, etc.
Students who wish to apply for reasonable adjustments should contact their higher education institution and discuss the available options with the respective contact person.
More information on the Disability and Inclusion Offices of Swiss higher education institutions can be found here.
Depending on the person’s disabilities, disability insurance providers can also pay out contributions to individuals.
The Federal Department of Home Affairs has an Office for Disability Equality that fosters and promotes equality for persons with disabilities, including in terms of education. The office:
– informs and raises awareness on important issues,
– coordinates tasks of stakeholders and creates network opportunities, all linked to the rights of persons with disabilities,
– determines thematic areas of focus, publishes analyses and information, and offers financial support for projects,
– assesses and monitors the implementation of equality in Switzerland and reports to the UN Disability Rights Committee.
Compilation of important addresses and links to organisations or specialist agencies for persons with disabilities in Switzerland: German / French / Italian.
The umbrella organisation of organisations for persons with disabilities: Inclusion Handicap (German / French)
Website for disabled students (German / French)
Cantonal counselling for persons with disabilities: Pro Infirmis (German / French / Italian)
General public grants and loans for students are allocated by the cantons or higher education institutions.
The legislative basis for the promotion and funding of mobility in education is the Ordinance on International Cooperation in Education, Professional Education and Training, Youth Affairs and Mobility. In Art. 4(c), the ordinance explicitly mentions that additional financial resources can be awarded to support individuals with disabilities within the framework of mobility project funding.
This policy ensures inclusive mobility for students and higher education staff with disabilities.
In Switzerland, Movetia is the National Agency for Exchange and Mobility. It is funded by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) together with other federal and cantonal stakeholders as well as private funders.
In terms of higher education mobility, Movetia works together with other institutions participating in the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP). This mobility scheme serves as an alternative to the Erasmus+ programme and provides a flat-rate grant to students. As of the 2021/2022 academic year, SEMP also promotes global mobility.
Providing additional financial support to persons with disabilities (“special needs”) is also part of SEMP.
– information on funding opportunities for students or higher education staff with disabilities who are planning a mobility,
– counselling for higher education institutions with regard to special needs grant applications,
– special needs grants to students or higher education staff with disabilities to lessen the extra costs that arise as the result of the mobility (grant payment via the Swiss higher education institution),
– financial support for the person accompanying the person with a disability, if applicable (payment via the Swiss higher education institution).
Together with the person with a disability, the Swiss higher education institution (the student/staff’s home institution) submits an application to Movetia for special needs funding. The application includes the following:
– the application form
– a brief description of the disability and the person’s special needs as well as a medical certificate
– a letter of confirmation from the student’s home institution
– an acceptance letter from the host institution for SEMP mobility
– a cost estimate (expected expenses)
The maximum special needs grant per mobility period is CHF 12,000. Applications must be submitted at the latest two months before the scheduled start of the mobility.
Students with a disability who are interested in organising a mobility through SEMP should get in touch with their home institution’s International Relations Office and Disability and Inclusion Office as early as possible.
If the student was awarded a cantonal public grant, the financial contribution is generally transferrable to another country, ensuring that the grant is continued during the student’s stay abroad.
The additional support services funded by the student’s disability insurance are likely also transferrable, but this depends on the individual services provided, which can vary according to the person’s special needs.
Movetia provides the same special needs grants for outgoing and incoming mobilities funded through SEMP. This means that international students/higher education staff with disabilities who are coming to Switzerland in the framework of the mobility scheme can apply for an additional grant for extra costs incurred due to the mobility (max. amount per mobility: CHF 12,000). The incoming person also benefits from the regular SEMP grant.
The Swiss host institution at which the student/staff will be spending their stay is responsible for applying for the grant from Movetia. For information on the required documents and application deadlines, please refer to the section above.
The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) also offers Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars and Artists. Persons with disabilities are also eligible for these scholarships.
The services provided by each higher education institution are essentially accessible to all students, both outgoing and incoming.
Each institution determines individually whether special grants can be awarded to incoming students. Students with disabilities who are interested in coming to Switzerland (through SEMP or outside of a mobility scheme) should get in touch with the respective International Relations Office and Disability and Inclusion Office of their prospective host institution in Switzerland as early as possible.
Cantonal grants and loans are usually only awarded to persons who are residents of the respective canton. Additional support from disability insurance providers is also restricted to residents.