Zentrum für selbstbestimmt Leben
by Peter Wehrli, April 1999
At the moment, the Swiss movement consists of two IL-centers in Zürich and Bern, an IL group without its own center in Fribourg (a small town in the French-speaking area) and an IL group just starting in Winterthur (another town east of Zürich). The core of our movement consists of eleven members of the "Genossenschaft", a typically Swiss legal form - the only one that allows for the activists to actually keep control over their movement. Additionally, we have a 200 member - and growing - support association, where people with or without disability can become members. The latter is our "money-machine".
The two legal bodies are in content linked by the charta (which can only be altered by mutual agreement) and, financially, by contract (which strictly restricts the support group to the Genossenschaft, but allows the latter to free decisions even without consent of the support group).
The members of the Genossenschaft are the governing body of the movement. Any disabled person who works actively within the movement for at least three months can become a member of this body. The entire group will vote on membership on application. The body is led by the trio president, vice president and cashier - who must be members and elected for the period of one year. Our vice president and leader of the Fribourg SL-Group is Ms. Kat Kanka (also known for her work on "rolliday"). Our cashier is Ms. Eva Schulthess. I am the founder of this organisation and, for the time being, president and (paid) executive director. All matters of policy are decided by the weekly "Headquarter meeting" in which all members of the Genossenschaft have equal participation and voting rights.
It is our intention to pay all members of the Genossenschaft for their immense work. However, as our finances are barely sufficient to pay the rent on the two centers and one salary, only my position is paid for the time being. We hope to become eligible for governement subsidies beginning next year and then to be able to pay several of our activists. The latter is not sure though - our governement subsidy regulations never intended to give financial assistance to those people who help themselves - it is all trained at supporting the helpers. We are fighting these regulations. At the moment we are involved in more than 30 projects on the national and cantonal levels. Within the last three years since the beginning, we have organized about 12 demonstrations - mostly in the area of public transport and health insurance (non-)coverage of assistance and - of course - the equal rights amendment to the Swiss constitution.
Switzerland does not yet know the concept of personal assistance and provides almost no financial means to live outside institutions. On the other hand, our vast institutional system is very strong financially (probably the most expensive on earth) and deeply entrenched with local and national politics. Thus, we call the institutions "golden cages". Their services are "perfect" from birth to death: no big scandals, highly trained and well paid personnel, "comfortable", a close network so that people find institutions almost in every little town, and - once in it - no way ever to get out. Ironically, reason for despair on our part is that we find little support even among the disabled persons in the institutions - not to speak of parents and relatives. Our circle of (passive) disabled supporters is perhaps 200-300 people, although we probably have the most valuable databank on disability activists (around 900 names) in Switzerland.
Since seven million Swiss run more than 600 different disability organizations and very weak "roof" organizations, cooperation between the different types of disability and between the different organizations of self-advocacy is rudimentary. The drive for the constitutional amendment can also be seen as a challenging chance to get togther and unite behind a great goal.