The rights of persons with disabilities and of children and young people with special educational needs are regulated by the Federal Constitution, federal law and also cantonal law.
The Federal Constitution prohibits any discrimination on grounds of physical, mental or psychological disability (Article 8(2)), provides for measures to eliminate inequalities affecting persons with disabilities (Article 8(4)), guarantees an adequate and free primary school education (Article 19) and obliges the cantons to ensure that adequate special needs education is provided to all children and young people with disabilities up to the age of 20 (Article 62(3)).
The legal bases govern responsibilities, eligibility criteria and entitlement to benefits. The Federal Act on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities is one of the key legal bases. In this Act, a person with disabilities means a person who, because of a presumed permanent physical, mental or psychological impairment, finds it difficult or impossible to perform daily activities, maintain social contacts, move, study, undergo basic and continuing education, or perform gainful employment (Article 2(1)).
The Federal Act on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities maintains that discrimination against people with disabilities exists in particular if the use of specific equipment or the involvement of necessary personal assistance is impeded or if the duration and structure of the course of education and examinations are not adapted to the specific requirements of learners with disabilities (Article 2(5)(B)).
The Act also enshrines the principle of adequate training of children and young people with disabilities: “The cantons shall ensure that handicapped children and young people enjoy the benefit of a basic education adapted to their specific needs” (Article 20(1)) and “The cantons shall encourage the integration of handicapped children and young people in the mainstream system through appropriate forms of schooling to the extent that it is possible and beneficial for the handicapped child or young person concerned” (Article 20(2)).
The Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPETA) governs inter alia the vocational education and training (VET) of young people with learning difficulties or with disabilities (Article 18).
Since 1 January 2008 the cantons have been responsible for the technical, legal and financial aspects of special schooling for children and young people with disabilities, as well as for special education measures. The Invalidity Insurance withdrew from co-financing and the associated regulatory activities. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) subsequently drafted the Intercantonal Agreement on Cooperation in Special Needs Education (Special Needs Education Agreement). The cantons which have signed the Special Needs Education Agreement undertake to comply with specific framework ordinances. Irrespective of whether or not they have signed the Agreement, each canton has to develop a special school concept as the basis for cantonal legislation which must be adopted at government or parliament level.
Principles of the Special Needs Education Agreement
Special needs education is based on the following principles:
- special needs education is part of the state education mandate,
- integrative solutions should be preferred over segregation, taking into account the welfare and development potential of the child or young person and taking into consideration the school environment and organisation,
- the principle of free education applies in the field of special needs education; parents or legal guardians may be asked to pay a financial contribution for meals and care,
- parents or legal guardians are involved in the process relating to the arrangement of special education measures.
Under the Special Needs Education Agreement all children and young people (0-20 years of age) with special educational needs living in Switzerland are entitled to special education measures. The range of measures is specified by the cantons and contains the following services and forms of special schooling:
- remedial education in early childhood: this addresses children with disabilities or developmental delays, limitations or risks. Support measures may be provided in a family context for children from birth to up to two years after starting school,
- integrative schooling: full-time or part-time integration of children and young people with special educational needs in a mainstream class through the use of special education measures,
- special classes: only children and young people with special educational needs are accepted into special classes (e.g. Einführungsklassen and small classes at primary level, Werkklassen at lower secondary level). Special classes are, however, only offered in some cantons,
- special school: special schools have specialised in particular forms of disability or learning and behavioural difficulties. Special schools only take children and young people who are entitled to enhanced measures. Enhanced measures go beyond the measures which are available locally. They are characterised by a long duration and high intensity, a high degree of specialisation among the specialist staff and a significant impact on the everyday life, environment or later life of the child or young person. Enhanced measures are subject to a cantonal approval procedure. Special schooling can, moreover, be combined with in-patient accommodation or with care in day-care centres,
- educational and therapeutic services such as speech therapy and psychomotor therapy,
- the cantons also organise the necessary transport and pay transport costs for children and young people who, due to their disability, cannot move independently between their home, school and/or the place in which they receive therapy.
Beyond the realm of special education, specific support measures are offered to children and young people from socially disadvantaged families and/or with a migrant background. Particular attention is paid to the transition from compulsory to post-compulsory education. Increasing the graduation rate at upper secondary level is a common objective of the partners in the alliance, i.e. the Confederation, cantons and professional organisations. Occupational, study and career guidance supports young people and adults in the choice of profession and study course and in developing their career. Each canton maintains a coordinating body for occupational, study and career guidance. Persons with disabilities with concerns in the field of job and career planning can contact the Invalidity Insurance career guidance offices.
Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft [Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation]
Bundesgesetz über die Beseitigung von Nachteilen für Menschen mit Behinderung [Federal Act on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities]
Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Zusammenarbeit im Bereich der Sonderpädagogik [Intercantonal Agreement on Cooperation in Special Needs Education]
Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]