Switzerland is not part of the European Union or subject to EU accessibility laws (read more about the European Accessibility Act and EU Web Accessibility Directive). However, Swiss law prohibits private and public organizations from discriminating against people on the basis of disability.
The Federal Law on the Elimination of Inequalities for Persons with Disabilities (PDF), also known as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), sets requirements for federal institutions and private businesses.
Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the DDA applies to places of public accommodation (note that English is not an official language of Switzerland, and “places of public accommodation" is an approximate translation).
The DDA came into force in 2004, and has been amended to include specific requirements for federal websites and other digital content. Below, we’ll discuss several important features of the law.
First, an important note: The Bureau of Internet Accessibility is not a law firm, and this article is not intended as legal advice. Work with a qualified legal team to understand Switzerland’s digital compliance requirements.
Does Switzerland’s Disability Discrimination Act apply to digital content?
Switzerland’s DDA requires public institutions to prevent unequal treatment for persons with disabilities. That extends to digital communications — websites, mobile apps, and other technologies that the federal government uses when communicating with the public.
The law’s technical requirements for federal agencies are established in the Ordinance on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities. Generally, public organizations must follow the Level AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards for digital accessibility.
Does Switzerland’s DDA apply to private businesses?
Switzerland’s requirements for private institutions are more complex. Private businesses cannot discriminate against employees or the public; however, they’re not required to take special steps to provide their services towards persons with disabilities.
Of course, there’s a strong business case for digital accessibility: Accessible websites reach a much wider audience, and the best practices of WCAG are aligned with the best practices of web design and search engine optimization (SEO).
Around 1.8 million people in Switzerland have at least one disability — about 20% of the total population. When businesses ignore these users, they miss an enormous opportunity.
What are the penalties for non-compliance with the Swiss DDA?
The DDA’s non-discrimination requirements are enforced through several mechanisms:
- Any person who experiences discrimination may claim compensation in court. Compensation is limited to 5,000 Swiss Francs (about $5,760 USD).
- Courts may order public institutions to take steps to cease discrimination.
- The federal government may allocate spending to support projects that promote equality.
In recent years, Swiss disability rights groups have pushed for greater inclusion and emphasized the importance of digital accessibility, which could lead to additional digital accessibility legislation in the future.
How WCAG Improves Digital Compliance
WCAG is a foundational framework for most digital accessibility laws. Content that follows the Level AA standards of the latest version of WCAG can be considered reasonably accessible for most individuals with disabilities.
By prioritizing four principles (perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness), WCAG addresses many of the most frustrating barriers that impact real-world users:
- Missing text alternatives for images and other non-text content.
- Low-contrast text, which may be unreadable for people with certain vision disabilities.
- Missing captions and audio descriptions for multimedia.
- Poor keyboard accessibility, which impacts users who do not use a mouse.
- Inaccessible PDFs and other web-delivered documents.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. WCAG contains dozens of pass-or-fail statements called success criteria, along with guidance for remediating issues. Websites that conform with WCAG provide a better experience for all users, regardless of those users' abilities, preferences, or browsing behavior.
Building a Web Accessibility Strategy
If you’re ready to build a plan for WCAG conformance — and improve digital compliance with a number of international non-discrimination laws — we’re here to help. Visit our Compliance Roadmap for free resources including eBooks, checklists, and accessibility audit tools.