Swiss Paraplegic Research

Empower Partner - Swiss Paraplegic Research

Swiss Paraplegic Research (SPF) is a private, non-profit research organization funded by the Swiss federal government, the Canton of Lucerne and the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation. >


The total staff is 50-60 researchers. Our mission is to improve the life of people with paraplegia or tetraplegia in the long-term through clinical and interdisciplinary research. We promote the study of health from a holistic point of view, by focusing on the ‘lived experience’ of persons with health conditions and their particular interaction with society. Specific areas of our comprehensive research agenda include human functioning, mental health, social integration, well-being and health services provision.

The Disability Policy and Implementation Research Group conducts research on the content of health and health-related policy designed to optimize participation for persons with health conditions in all areas of life, learning from the experience of spinal cord injury (SCI). We employ a variety of approaches and methodologies of research – both quantitative and qualitative. We not only research the best policy options, we also seek the most effective ways of implementing those options so that the benefits of sound research can measurably improve people’s lives.

Project Staff

Professor Dr Carla Sabariego, MPH

Principal Investigator
Co-Leader, Disability Policy and Implementation Research Group, SPF
Professor for Rehabilitation and Healthy Ageing, University of Lucerne
Co-Head of the WHO Collaborating Center for Rehabilitation in Global Health Systems, University of Lucerne
+414 193 96 563

Professor Sabariego is a clinical psychologist and holds a master’s degree in public health and Epidemiology from the LMU Munich, Germany. She has completed her PhD in health economics in 2011, with a focus on cost-effectiveness evaluations of rehabilitation programs, and completed her habilitation in 2016 about the implementation of the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) model as a conceptual framework in clinical rehabilitation and in public health. She worked as a senior researcher and lecturer of the Institute of Public Health and Health Services Research, located at the LMU Munich, for 15 years.

From 2011 to 2018 she acted as a consultant to the World Health Organization and worked in the development, piloting and worldwide implementation of the “Model Disability Survey”, a dedicated functioning and disability survey. She also participated in the development and implementation of the WHO Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Indicators. From Mai 2017 to July 2018 she worked at WHO’s Disability and Rehabilitation Programme of the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, in Geneva. Since September 2018 she is Co-Leader of the Disability Policy and Implementation Research Group at SPF, Nottwil. In January 2021 she has been appointed as an assistant Professor for Rehabilitation and Healthy Ageing at the University of Lucerne (tenure track). She is currently co-head of the WHO Collaborating Center for Rehabilitation in Global Health Systems located at the University of Lucerne.

Prof Jerome Bickenbach
Prof Jerome Bickenbach (M)

Co-Leader of the Disability Policy and Implementation Research Group at SPF, Nottwil, and Co-Director of the Center for Rehabilitation in Global Health Systems, WHO Collaborating Center, University of Lucerne.

Jerome Bickenbach is a professor at the University of Lucerne and Swiss Paraplegic Research, Nottwil, and Emeritus Professor at Queen’s University, Canada.

He is the author or editor of Physical Disability and Social Policy (1993) and the co-editor of Introduction to Disability (1998), Disability and Culture: Universalism and Diversity (2000), A Seat at the Table: Persons with Disabilities and Policy Making (2001), Quality of Life and Human Difference (2003), Ethics, Law, and Policy: The SAGE Reference Series on Disability (2012) and Disability and the Good Human Life (2014) and numerous articles and chapters in disability studies, focusing on the nature of disability and disability law and policy. Since 1995 he has been a consultant with WHO working on the preparation and implementation of the ICF.

Most recently his research includes disability quality of life and the disability critique, disability epidemiology, ageing and wellbeing, universal design and inclusion, modelling disability statistics for population health surveys, the relationship between disability and health, and the ethics and the application of ICF to the development of human right indicators for monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mirjam Brach
Mirjam Brach (F)

Managing Director of Swiss Paraplegic Research. Mirjam Brach has been the Administrative Director of Swiss Paraplegic Research since January 2006.

She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Swiss Paraplegic Group Pension Fund. Before starting at SPF, Mirjam Brach held several clinical, teaching and management positions in Germany. She is a registered nurse; from 1982 until 1998 she worked in various fields of nursing, during which time she gained clinical experience in cardiology, abdominal surgery and traumatology. After many years as a clinical practitioner, Mirjam Brach focused more on research and management.

In 1998 and 1999 she worked as a Research Fellow at the Bavarian Public Health Research Institute at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) in Munich, Germany and from 1999 until 2005 as a Clinic Manager and Research Leader in in rehabilitation economics in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the former Institute of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at LMU. Mirjam Brach has served as a lecturer on the topics of health policy, health economics and health administration including in the Medical Faculty of LMU, at the Bavarian Academy for Nursing, in Gauting, Germany, within the Master Program in Physiotherapy Sciences at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland and within the Master Program in Health Sciences at the University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology in Innsbruck, Austria.

Dr. Renaldo Bernard - SPF
Dr. Renaldo Bernard

Senior Project Scientist, Disability Policy and Implementation Research Group, SPF.

Dr. Bernard is a psychologist working at the intersection between the research, design, development and implementation of digital health resources. He completed his PhD in Medical Research (summa cum laude) at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, with a focus on Web accessibility for people with mental health conditions. He also holds a master’s degree in Psychology from Nottingham Trent University, as well as a master’s degree in Web Science from the University of Southampton.

From 2009 to 2012 he was based at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, first as a tutor in psychology, then a year later as Adjunct Lecturer in Educational Technology. In 2014, he was awarded a 3-year EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and concurrently served as a visiting researcher in psychology at the University of Southampton, where his work focused on e-Mental health. During this time, his collaborations with several academic and industry partners, including the World Health Organisation and the International Telecommunication Union, produced formative work relating to the design of digital resources used by people with common mental disorders and persons with disabilities. Prior to joining SPF in autumn 2020, he led product development at a Stuttgart-based digital consultancy for over three years.

Now as Senior Project Scientist in Digital Health at SPF, he works on special projects in the area and is also tasked with laying the groundwork for the development of scalable, evidence-based, digital health resources for people with spinal cord injuries globally.