There have been so many great things about living in Europe, but one of the most illuminating is how Germany is so accessible and disability friendly. Every train has an elevator, every restaurant will move chairs out of the way to make room and I have yet to meet a German who will not respond to “hilfe, bitte!” They make their understanding tangible with the Disability Identification Card, a government issued ID that classifies your disability to let others know what sort of help you need. With this ID, however, there are also different venues that encourage people with disabilities to enjoy so they will offer services for free; trains, buses, tickets, etc.
The name of my ID is “Schwebehindertenausweis”, but that translates into my personal disability classification. The term “ausweis” is the most important, for it will apply to any of the ID disability classifications. The classifications are divided into letters, each describing what kind of help you need. I use a wheelchair and cannot walk, therefore my letters are “B, G, aG and H” which will tell any authority that I cannot use stairs, I need help getting on and off transportation and I require a person to accompany me. They assign the letters based on the degree of disability; I am a paraplegic and have been evaluated to be 100% disabled. To obtain this ID, here are the steps I took:
- The location of the German Disability Office is Versorgungsamt, Fritz-Elsas-Strasse 30, 70174, Stuttgart- just a few blocks from the Rahthaus. Their hours are Mon- Wed 0900-1330, Thursday 1200-1800 and Friday 0900-1200. The number is: 0711-6673-7550. *Many of the workers do not speak English, so be prepared to take a translator (or have the ACS translator call for you) or bring your phone with Google Translate!
- At the office, you pick up the application for the ID. To complete the application, you’ll need the name, address and phone number of a doctor they can reach. They prefer a German doctor, but they will accept a provider from Patch Clinic. They will be calling whoever you list, so be sure to choose a doctor who is aware of your limitations with your disability and is willing to be contacted.
- They will also require your medical records relating to your disability. These records, however, need to be translated. One or two letters from a doctor with a treatment plan is all that is needed, as long as it is clear from the letter that your disability limits you in understandable ways. You can take these records to ACS (Panzer) to be translated or scan/submit them online at militaryonesource.com for translation as well.
- BEFORE SUBMITTING APPLICATION: They need your German address to mail your identification card, to ensure that you are a German citizen. The NATO/SOFA agreements allow us military members to be accepted as German citizens, but they need an address as well. This address must have the same last name on the mailbox as the name on the application or the postman will NOT leave the ID card. The German postal service is very secure and they will not leave a letter at a friends or sponsors house. THIS ADDRESS MUST BE REGISTERED AT THE RAHTHAUS. To ensure your residency, you must take your signed lease to your house/apartment to the Rahthaus in Stuttgart and register yourself. The process is very simple and takes just a few minutes, but the receipt they return to you is a vital piece of paperwork you will need when submitting your application.
- When submitting application, make sure to bring
- Military passport with SOFA/NATO stamp
- Sponsor’s orders
- Four passport photos of yourself (these can be taken at the PX on Panzer or the gas station on Patch)
- Translated medical records
- Completed application with doctor’s names, numbers and addresses
- A smile!
GET YOUR CASE NUMBER BEFORE YOU LEAVE. With the case number, you can ask the translator at ACS (Panzer) to call and get an update on the review process.
They will then review the application with their own team of doctors to ensure your disability is valid. ***NOTE: If you desire things to move a little quicker, ask to be examined by their doctors that day. The examination takes place in the physicians private office and is very thorough, but the physicians are all very nice and they SPEAK ENGLISH***. The review process can take 2-6 weeks, depending on the volume at that time, but it will be mailed to your German address as quickly as possible (CMR Box address are not accepted, plan accordingly).
It seems like a lot of work to get this ID, but the benefits outweigh the work in my opinion. The Stuttgart Zoo in Wilhelma, all or many of the museums in ALL OF GERMANY and many of the theme parks give either free or reduced rates on tickets for people with this ID. The biggest blessing from this acceptance of disability is the free use of the public transportation (*this is only true for 100% rated disabilities).
The Bahn system has a “Mobility Traveling” program in which a person with an G-level/100% disability rating and their accompanying person has the ability to ride local transportation for free. In Stuttgart, this means the S-Bahn, U-Bahn and all the buses. This is true for any city in Germany- the local transportation is free. For individuals like myself with a 100% rating (or a G letter), the regional trains are also free (on the tickets the trains are labeled RE or IRE). This doesn’t include the ICE, IC or TVG trains.
They also allow the chance to book your trip online and state your need for assistance on the trains. This way, when the train arrives at the station, the conductor knows you’re there and will have the ramp ready. The website to book is: http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GRB/en or by phone: +49 (0) 1806/512 512. In the train stations themselves (and sometimes above ground), there are accessible bathrooms that can be opened by either an attendant or a key. You can get your own personal key so that you have access to a bathroom ANYWHERE IN GERMANY at any time or day. You apply for this key at: http://www.cbf-da.de.