Thursday, July 31, 2008

Swiss have enviable services for people with disabilities

NPR has a story about Tara (pictured above), who has autism, and the experiences of her parents, American Ellen Wallace and English Nick Bates, in Switzerland.

When she was 3 1/2 years old, her parents got the diagnosis they suspected: Their daughter is autistic. That qualified Tara for Switzerland's federal disability insurance, which Wallace says has been an enormous blessing.

"In purely practical terms, what it has meant is that no matter what health care
problems Tara has had, they've been covered by insurance," she says, "which is a huge blessing because if you're already worried about a little kid's health, not having to worry about paying for it really helps."

The disability insurance pays for Tara's education — she goes to a special school for profoundly disabled children — and all of her behavioral therapy. It also pays for a cleaning lady and household help for the family, since Tara leaves a perpetual mess in her wake, and even for the disposable diapers Tara still needs.

Wallace says what has really pleased her about dealing with the Swiss system is the attitude of the social workers.

"My experience is that there's a lot of trust," she says. "I think they're very fair. They come in and ask a lot of questions, and their job appears to be to try to be helpful and to get you as much assistance as they possibly can."

But as Tara grew into an adolescent, Wallace began to get anxious. She wondered what would happen to Tara after she and her husband died. So Wallace went to see her social worker.

"She said the really key thing to understand is, you don't have to worry," Wallace recalls. "The way the Swiss government approaches this is that every person who is a Swiss citizen has the right to be able to live decently.

"For me, that was just like such a huge wave of relief — to have somebody tell you, you don't ever have to worry about how your child is going to be cared for."