3000 words – German Disability Policies

An Analysis of the German Disability Policy


The word disability can be used to describe a number of conditions which differ from one country to another in terms of their subjective definition. However, disability generally has similar characteristics from one country to the other in objective terms. When the bread winner of the family is disabled, there is no doubt that that person or family is faced with a disaster[1]. In the economic sense, disability can be as devastating. This is because disability has two major effects. When someone is disabled, that person finds it difficult in most instances to raise income. In addition to that, many disabled people need special care and medical attention. So not only does he or she (the disabled person) fail to financially support the family but he or she may become a liability. Most government and policy makers understand the gravity of this problem; that is why many governments have introduced a wide range of policies to ameliorate the living condition of disabled people.

Most German disability policies place a focus on education and labour[2]. For this reason, some other important factors such as independent living arguably do not get enough attention. The whole idea of independence among disable people has been at the forefront of German disability activists, and these movements have been advocating independent living more than two decades now. Their efforts are seemingly paying off. Over a two decade period, much has been achieved.  The German government has made it possible for disabled persons to enjoy a full and social life. Prior to this struggle, disabled persons in Germany were arguably abandoned and received limited attention from the government and policy makers[3]. They were almost left to struggle on their own in other to acquire the necessities of life such as accommodation, healthcare and education. With such a scenario, disabled people from poor family backgrounds often found it very difficult to deal with the day to day realities of life.  Even when they had the necessary qualifications, employers most often discriminated against them[4].

Generally speaking, it is important to note that many official reports which are published on the state of disabled persons in Germany provide inadequate information about the current situation. As a result, it is important for independent research to be carried out in order to accurately understand the state of disabled persons as well as the level of support they receive. Such independent research need to provide the answers to important  questions such as the following;

-Which particular groups of disabled persons received assistance?

-Which groups of disabled persons are left behind in the government policies to ameliorate the lives of disabled persons?

-What risks are associated with the current disability policies and legislation?



According to a survey conducted in 2005, Germany harbours 8.6 million disabled people. Of this number, close to 2 million of them are considered to be slightly disabled. More than half of the disabled people in Germany are males. The 2005 data suggest that approximately 6.7 million people living in Germany are fully disabled.  These groups of disabled persons constitute about 8.2% of the German population[5].

There are three major types of disability policies put in place by governments around the world. These three policy group include the following; ameliorative policies, corrective policies, as well as preventive policies.

Ameliorative policies include those which are specifically designed to relieve the burden caused by impairment as well as the loss of revenue by disabled people. Most of these policies include financial assistance programmes and donations in kind. Examples of some of the measure used within such policies include subsidized healthcare costs and the disbursement of housing allowances[6]. Corrective policies are implemented because, for the most part, these disabled persons are unable to provide housing and healthcare for themselves if left on their own. In some countries, like Germany, for instance, ameliorative policies include the distribution of wheel chairs and cars which are specifically designed to make life easier for disabled persons.

Corrective policies include those programmes which have been designed to either remove or mitigate the effects of disability. These programmes help to improve the condition in which handicapped persons operate. Basically, the objective of most corrective policies is to help handicapped persons return to work[7]. An example of such a corrective programme is rehabilitation efforts. Most of these efforts are geared towards retaining disabled people who are unable to continue with their previous employment as a result of their disability. In Germany, some of these persons are offered employment in the public service as well as sheltered workshops, modification of schools, hospitals and other public buildings, so as to make it easier for disabled people to move around these buildings. Employers who hire the services of disabled people are offered subsidies.

Preventive policies include programmes which are geared towards the prevention of disability, and these include health care programmes specifically designed to prevent disability. In Germany, these include vaccines administered on children to prevent them from becoming physically handicapped during childhood or later in life.[8]

In Germany, the national disability policy is included in German law. The emphasis of German disability policy is on prevention, rehabilitation, accessibility, individual support for disability persons, as well as anti-discrimination laws. Disabled persons in this country are protected by both general legislation and specific laws introduced to uphold their rights. The judicial system protects disable persons in Germany through the German courts of law, as well as non judicial system, which includes a government institution with representatives from several disabled person organisations or movements.[9] The general law protects persons with various disabilities when it comes to pertinent issues such as employment, education, the rights to marriage, privacy, family-parenthood, inheritance. That notwithstanding, the German government admits that people with mental disabilities receive limited rights to property; and, in such cases, property rights are handed over to a third party who manages them in common with most European countries. Generally, the law guarantees healthcare, rehabilitation, training, counselling, financial assistance as well as general assistance to help disabled persons into employment and participation when it comes to making decisions that affect the disabled. However, the government has also added an explanatory note which holds that the participation in decision making, to only a restricted extent, applies to individuals with mental problems.[10] Following the introduction of legislation aimed at protecting disabled persons, a law aimed at abolishing all forms of discrimination against disabled people has been introduced.[11]

The second emphasis in Germany’s disability policy guarantees accessibility: there are special laws and regulation which have been designed to ensure that people suffering from disabilities of every kind can gain access to public places, within reason (historic buildings may be inaccessible to the disabled). According to this law, public buildings, lands, outdoors, sea, air and land transportation must be made accessible for people with disability. In order to ensure that this law is implemented in Germany, the government has dedicated local government to ensure that contractors consider disable persons during the construction process.[12] In a bid to facilitate access to buildings, contractors are obliged to install and widen the size of elevators in public buildings. They are also expected to install accessible toilets and adapt some stairs in such a way that they can easily accommodate wheel chairs. Local government has also been called upon to provide financial assistance to support the cost of adjusting private buildings to suit the needs of disable persons.[13]

The German government admits that it is not an easy task to provide all the assistance needed to make life better for disabled persons. Some special measures introduced include free transportation for short distances to enable disabled persons to gain access to medical care, employment and education. Given that there is inadequate knowledge and experience when it comes to planning, accessibility or adapting old buildings to suit the needs of disabled persons, a disability awareness model has been introduced in the training of constructors and architectural engineers.[14] Such knowledge is expected to facilitate the task of making new buildings accessible to disabled persons as well as adapting old building to suit the needs of disabled persons as much as possible. When it comes to the use of sign language, the German government believes that it is not enough to talk about officially recognising it: the government states that an existing language is already recognised, and the use of signs to accompany spoken language is already common. However, it is difficult to talk about introducing an official sign language when there is no universally recognised sign language.[15] According to the government, the fact that not all deaf people master a particular sign language means that the government cannot ‘officialise’ such language. The federal government encourages media outlets to incorporate sign language in the broadcast of news; such a move is important in other to help disseminate information to people with hearing impairment.[16] Today, some media outlets in Germany already make use of the sign language.


Over the last few years, Germany has taken a number of positive steps towards ensuring that people with disabilities have an easier life. Below are some measures which the German government have introduced within the last decades.


-In 2002, Germany introduced the Disability Equity Act. This act raised the issue of accessibility. The goal of the measure is to ensure that public transport, buildings and communication are accessible to every German citizen irrespective of their disability status.

-The government has also introduced integration support. This support has been incorporated into the German social assistance law. This makes it possible for persons with disabilities to receive financial support from the government in order to enable them medical and housing costs. The German government has also reviewed its policies when it comes to education and disabled persons. The government has made it possible for persons with disabilities to have access to education both in secondary schools and universities. These policies also go a long way to ensure that student who graduated from colleges and higher learning institutions have equal opportunity with their counterparts who do not suffer from any physical or mental disability. In order to encourage employers to hire graduates with disabilities, the government offers subsidies to employers who hire employees with disability.

-More direct payments have been introduced since 2001. These payments are because of a wider rehabilitation and participation law which was introduced by the government that year. These payments constitute a personal budget, and have become the right of disabled persons in Germany since last year. It is strongly believed that this personal budget will go a long way to facilitate independent living. That is because these payments are based on a specific situation and the need of each disabled person. However, some critics believe that such payments could instead lead to dependency within the family of the disable person.


In Germany, disable persons who choose to live independently are eligible to apply for financial support. This support is used for the purchase of equipment like wheel chairs and other equipments designed to ease independent living for disabled persons. They can also apply for funding aimed at modifying the houses they chose to live in. The government also provides transportation to enable disabled persons can relocate to wherever they choose to start their independent lives. Upon such application, the financial requirement of each individual is assessed and approved according to his or her specific case.[17] In most instances, the financial support these persons receive is provided by local government. Another source of financing is the National Compulsory Health Insurance Fund. Assistive equipment is provided by national agencies charged with vocational rehabilitation of disabled persons. In Germany, one of the largest integration service institutions for disabled person is known in German as “Intergrationsamter.”

Disabled persons aged above eighteen who are gainfully employed in full time jobs are eligible to apply for financial support from the unemployment insurance fund. In the case of the older employees, they can apply for financial support from the same institution but on the bases of rehabilitation before pension.[18] For family with children suffering from disability, they can apply for support towards meeting the cost of education. Support towards the cost of education of such disabled children is based on their educational needs and not on the means of the family.

Counselling and information is crucial when it comes to making that decision to become independent as disabled person. Much of such information is readily available via a nation network of disabled organisations.[19] Over the last decade, about ten centres for independent living have been established in Germany which provide all the necessary support which disabled persons need in other to start an independent life.[20] Even though the support granted is primarily aimed at improving the lives of disabled persons, there are cases where the disabled person can engage someone who has been providing him or her assistance, such as a family member.

In Germany, most of the personal assistance provided to disabled persons is managed by disabled persons themselves. These services include and are not limited to recreation, personal care, work place assistance, apprenticeship, and mobility assistance. Following the introduction of personal assistance, disabled people have controlled and directed these services.[21] This is based on the belief that disabled persons best understand the needs of their fellow disabled brothers and sisters they are charged with controlling and managing personnel.[22] They make all the decisions that have to do with contracts, working condition and remunerations. Generally, people with serious disabilities have the right to receive personal assistance, and such support is evaluated based on the specific situation and then the grant is made available if appropriate. These grants can either be cash or in kind.



The German government has put in a lot of effort when it comes to improving the quality of life for disabled people. The key element of the German government’s strategy to improve the life of disabled people includes the provision of healthcare, education and, where possible, employment to qualified disabled people. The government believe that by addressing these issues, it can improve the quality of life for the disabled segment of its population. Most disabled people persons have a desire to live independently and the German government is doing much to ensure that disabled people realise this dream.

The German fight for better life for disabled persons has been running for more than two decades now. Since the mid 1980s, disability rights activists have been involved in a long fight to secure their rights. This fight has yield fruit which range from subsidies, legislation, and other programmes aimed at improving the quality of lives for disabled persons. Most of the German government’s disability policies are funded by social contributions, the national social insurance fund, local government and health care funds which are used to finance these programmes. The various political groups in Germany recognise the importance of incorporating disabled persons into society, and of course are keen to attract the support and votes of the disabled in an ageing population, and this has made it relatively easier to improve on the country’s disability policies. Legislation to protect disabled persons has thus been quickly adopted by the German parliament.

There is really no particular law in Germany which prescribes the country’s disability policy. However, the government is expected to release regular reports which details the situation of disabled people. Since 1986, three of these reports have been presented and discussed by the German parliament.[23]  Meanwhile, the government is not compelled to implement all recommendations of these reports.  The government is, however, free to create its own disability policies as well as introduce specific legislation which are aimed at improving the quality of life for disabled persons.[24]

German disability policies have been criticised for promoting laziness and dependence among disabled persons; this is because some disabled people simply sit back and wait to receive government support. Consequently, the level of participation of disabled persons in the German labour market has drop tremendously. In 1999, just 20% of disabled women were actively employed. In that same year, just about one third of disabled men were actively involved in the German labour force.[25] Despite all the efforts made by the German government, many disabled persons continue to be unemployed – but then Germany does have roughly five million unemployed people, most of them able-bodied. To an extent, it could be said that some of the funds which the German government invest in disabilities programmes do not provide the level of result expected.

The German government’s effort to ameliorate the living conditions of disabled persons have mostly focus on personal assistance, healthcare, legislation,  housing allowances and vocational training programmes. Of course, it takes more than legislation to abolish discrimination among disabled persons. As a result of the above, it is important for the German government to introduce new programmes aimed at stamping out stereotypes among disabled persons. No matter the level of training, legislation aimed at preventing discrimination in work places, employers still continue to discriminate against disabled persons. In other to remove such stereotypes, it is absolutely necessary for the German government to introduce courses aimed at changing people’s perception of disabled persons. As early as primary education, German children need to be taught that disabled people have potential and must be fully incorporated in the labour force, and that anyone can be disabled. The essence of such a course would be to make sure that these children grow up in the future to recognise disabled persons as their equals.



In conclusion, it can be said that disability activists have put in a lot of effort to improve the quality of life for disable persons in Germany. These decades- old efforts have had results, and the situation for the disabled has improved greatly in recent decades in many ways. However, it is important to note that there is a great deal to be done in order to make life more comfortable and full for disabled persons. One of the biggest problems identified by disabled persons in Germany is discrimination, which mostly comes from the non disabled persons in society[26]. Unfortunately, most of Germany’s disability policies tend to focus solely on the disabled segment of the population and this is arguably why disabled persons continue to be discriminated against. In order to improve on the current state of affairs, the German government needs to introduce massive education campaigns which should target the non disabled segment of the population. Having said that, it will certainly take a a great deal of time to completely eradicate discrimination against disabled persons in Germany, especially in an age of economic strife and high unemployment.



































David, J. I. (2004) Income, Inequality, and Uncertainty: Differences between the Disabled and Nondisabled, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 40-45


Haveman et al. (2004) Measuring the Economic Costs of Disability, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 67-73


Jurgen, H. M. (2000) The German Social Employment Program, Washington: Brookings Institute, pp. 273-278


Moore et al. (1998) Researching Disability Issues, New York: Open University Press, pp. 134-140


Palmer, J. L. (1999) Integrating Disabled Persons Into Society, London: Longman, pp. 12-18


Parr, H. & Butler, R. (1999) Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment, and Disability New York: Routledge, pp. 300-307


Robert, H. H. et al. (1984) Public Policy Toward Disabled Workers: Cross-National Analyses of Economic Impacts, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 23-30


Saunders, P. (2007) The Costs of Disability and the Incidence of Poverty, Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 42(2) pp. 12


Stein, M. A. (2003) The Law and Economics of Disability Accommodations, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 53, 2003.


Huber, M. et al. (2006) Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union. Retrieved 16.10.09, from http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/spsi/docs/social_protection/2008/study_social_health_services_en.pdf


[1] Haveman et al. , Measuring the Economic Costs of Disability, Cornell University Press: New York, (2004), pp. 67

[2] Jurgen H. M. The German Social Employment Program, Brookings Institute: Washington, (2000) pp. 275

[3] Ibid, pp. 276

[4] Ibid, pp. 276

[5] Jurgen H. M. The German Social Employment Program, Washington: Brookings Institute, (2000) pp. 275

[6] Palmer, J. L. Integrating Disabled Persons Into  Society,  Longman: London, (1999) pp. 15

[7] Ibid, pp. 15

[8] Ibid, pp. 16

[9] Huber, M. et al. Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union, (2006) pp. 24

[10] Robert, H. H. et al. Public Policy Toward Disabled Workers: Cross-National Analyses of Economic Impacts, Cornell University Press: New York, (1984) pp. 23-30

[11] Ibid, 23

[12] Huber, M. et al. Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union, (2006) pp. 70

[13] Ibid, 77

[14] Jurgen, H. M. The German Social Employment Program, Brookings Institute :Washington, (2000) pp. 274

[15] Huber, M. et al., Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union, (2006) pp. 73

[16] Ibid pp. 134

[17] Robert, H. H. et al. Public Policy Toward Disabled Workers: Cross-National Analyses of Economic Impacts, Cornell University Press : New York, (1984) pp. 23-30

[18] Saunders, P. The Costs of Disability and the Incidence of Poverty, Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 42(2) (2007) pp. 12

[19] Ibid, pp. 12


[20] Huber, M. et al. Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union, (2006) pp. 33

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Jurgen, H. M. The German Social Employment Program, Brookings Institute : Washington, (2000) pp. 273-276

[24] Ibid

[25] Huber, M. et al. Study on Social and Health Services of General Interest in the European Union, (2006) pp. 40

[26] Parr, H. & Butler, R. Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment, and Disability, Routledge : New York, (1999) pp. 300-307