Health, Life, Europe

People with visual impairment, blindness in Switzerland still face many barriers: Advocacy group

More adapted jobs and mandatory concepts for professional inclusion of people with visual impairment are needed, says Swiss group

Beyza Binnur Donmez  | 05.01.2023 - Update : 05.01.2023
People with visual impairment, blindness in Switzerland still face many barriers: Advocacy group


People with disabilities can face great challenges accessing health care, education, and employment and taking part in the community, and for those who rely on the use of touch, speech, and hearing to communicate their needs and access information, it can be even harder.

People with visual impairment and blindness in Switzerland "still face many barriers," the Swiss National Association of and for the Blind (SNAB) told Anadolu Agency in an interview, citing a UN report on how Switzerland implements the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Stating that certain barriers make it impossible for people with visual impairments to participate equally in an inclusive society, the group said: "People with visual impairments cannot exercise their political rights autonomously and self-determinedly."

"For people with visual impairments or blindness, a lot of information, publications, websites and apps are still not accessible without barriers today," the association said. "The font size in public documents is often too small, making the information barely legible for the visually impaired."

It stresses that "there is generally higher unemployment and lower employment" for people with blindness and visual impairment.

"More adapted jobs on the open labor market and mandatory concepts for the professional inclusion of people with a visual impairment are needed," the group urged.

The number of visually impaired and blind people living in Switzerland is about 377,000, according to data collected by the group, which believes that nearly 50,000 of this number are blind.

Much has been done in public transport

In public transport "a lot has been done in recent years," the group said, explaining how policies of the Swiss Federal Railways, or SBB, have made railway travel "very accessible" for people with visual impairments or and blindness.

"The SBB application is inclusively designed to make all information of the Swiss railroad system available to people with visual impairment," it said, adding that many Swiss train stations have been adapted to make orientation for people with visual impairment possible.

According to a 2020 study by the foundation Access for All – when the coronavirus pandemic made e-commerce an important part of daily life – on how accessible Swiss online shopping is for people with a disability, the SSB's online portal was ranked 4.5 out of 5 points, or very accessible.

Access for All rated 41 online shops frequently used in Switzerland, including private organizations, public administration, and federal enterprises, but found only 10 of them to be very accessible or accessible, while 17 were found to be operational with some hurdles.

Fourteen shops were classified as not accessible by the foundation, which is committed to promoting the use of technology that meets the needs of the disabled.

Swiss federal publications called Bundespublikationen and city pages such as Stadt Bern, Stadt Zurich Swiss International Airlines, Nespresso, Airbnb, and Ikea are among the top 10 on the accessibility list.

Braille's place in Swiss daily life

The touch-accessible language of Braille is widely used in the healthcare sector, transportation, and on everyday objects, the group said.

The tactile writing system used by visually impaired people "can be found in Switzerland on many medicine packages ... on the labels of everyday objects such as kitchen utensils or work tools," the group said, adding that information such as track numbers and sectors are displayed in Braille at Swiss train stations, and there are metal plates on the handrails.

"This makes it easier for people with visual impairments and blindness to find their way around," it said. "Braille is also increasingly found on the controls of elevator systems. This is gratifying."

It underlined the need for voice output as an alternative to Braille for operating machines and lift systems, where touchpads are used.

On how people with visual impairment and blindness learn Braille, the group said that private lessons by specifically trained Braille teachers are given in the country and that they maintain a list of qualified professionals for this purpose.

Children with visual impairment or blindness of school age learn Braille either at a school for children with blindness or visual impairment or at public schools where they receive individual support, it added.

The association supports blind and visually impaired people with assistive technologies and products and trains specialized staff for rehabilitation purposes, the group underlined.

World Braille Day, celebrated every Jan. 4 since 2019, is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion, under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Braille is a tactile representation of alphabetic and numerical symbols using six dots to represent each letter and number, and even musical, mathematical, and scientific symbols. Braille, named after its inventor in 19th century France, Louis Braille, is used by blind and partially sighted people to read.

According to the World Health Organization, over 2.2 billion people are visually impaired worldwide and over 1 billion are forced to live with preventable or treatable conditions, simply because they cannot get the care they need.

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