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Swiss Centre for Barrier-free Communication

In the project entitled "Proposal and Implementation of a Swiss Research Centre for Barrier-free Communication", the School of Applied Linguistics at the ZHAW is working with the University of Geneva to create the foundation for barrier-free access to courses and study programmes at all Swiss higher education institutions.

Project description

In the project entitled "Proposal and Implementation of a Swiss Research Centre for Barrier-free Communication", findings from research and practice, as well as the responses of target groups, are analysed, structured and amalgamated. Within the framework of this project, a Centre is being developed which will, in the near future, implement the project's research findings. Current research findings, publications and events organised by the University of Geneva and the ZHAW are regularly announced here as well as on the project website of the University of Geneva.

Conferences on barrier-free communication

The Third Conference on Barrier-free Communication was held online on 29 June – 4 July 2020.

The Second Conference on Barrier-free Communication was held in Geneva on 9 and 10 November, 2018. Information on the Conference

The First Conference on "Barrier-free Communication: Methods and Products" took place on 15 and 16 September, 2017 at the School of Applied Linguistics in Winterthur. Impressions of the 2017 conference

Project aims

The primary objective of the project is to research barrier-free communication and the way it can generate sustainable access to studying for students with sensory impairments, and for L2 speakers of the language of instruction, at all Swiss universities.

Certain services are already offered in practice. There is, however, a lack of sound research evidence of their benefits. Such research is required to standardise the approaches used and to ensure the provision of a high-quality service that meets the needs of users in respect of barrier-free communication.

The planned Swiss Centre for Barrier-free Communication aims to address these research gaps. Thanks to the collaboration with service providers, as well as organisations and representatives of the target group, research and practice can be brought closer together. In addition, standardised training programmes are being designed for audio description, respeaking, transfer to easy-to-read and other special forms of translation. The Swiss multilingual context and the transfer of spoken Swiss-German dialects into standard German play an integral role in the process of establishing the Centre.

These aims can, of course, only be achieved by close collaboration with the target groups, their umbrella organisations, as well as practice partners. The Centre is therefore closely linked with multiple practice partners.

What is barrier-free communication?

In an ideal world, barrier-free communication (BfC) is defined as a situation in which a source text, either spoken, written or pictorial, can be accessed and understood by everyone.

Several definitions already exist for this new area of research. In our view, the definition of BfC provided by the University of Hildesheim is very comprehensive:

"Barrier-free communication involves all measures to reduce barriers to communication in different situational areas. Barriers to communication may exist both with regard to the communication participants’ sensory organs or cognitive facilities, or with regard to the linguistic, terminological, technical, cultural and medial demands a text presents to the recipient."

BfC researchers thus need to know about the needs of target groups and require models and methods for preparing information so that it can be accessed from a barrier-free point of view.

BfC methods

BfC methods include the transfer of visual information to spoken language (audio description and audio introduction), the transfer of spoken language into written language (speech-to-text), interpreting spoken language into sign language, and the conversion of linguistically complex coded content into simpler codings (easy-to-read language, plain language and citizen-oriented language).

Legal basis in Switzerland

The UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that persons with disabilities must have access to information and communication. There is therefore a fundamental requirement for access to information to be barrier-free. Switzerland has been a signatory to the CRPD since April 2014 and barrier-free communication is a key concern in its efforts to create an inclusive society. This is also reflected in Switzerland’s legislation in its Disability Discrimination Act.

Article 21 of the CRPD states that: "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice as defined in article 2 of the present Convention […]"



The centre is still in the process of being established. We welcome any questions and suggestions. Do you require a specific service in the domain of "Barrier-free Communication"? Do you want to establish contact with us as an affected person or as a practice partner? Please write an email with the subject line "Barrier-free Communication" to Professor Susanne Jekat.