Disability rights in Germany, by Corina Zolle

April 23, 2010

Corina Zolle

For the German disability rights movement the idea of independent living has always been a key topic. Many activities have taken place over the last two decades in order to promote independent living and personal assistance outside of institutions.

The disability rights movement has been very successful in establishing a concept of personal assistance, the so called “employer model”, and an infrastructure for support in independent living. At local level there are centres run by disabled people which offer peer counselling and support for all disabled people who want to live independently. There are also several national (umbrella) organisations which provide networks and also lobby on the issue.

Direct payments have been introduced since the new rehabilitation and participation law came into force in 2001; they take the form of personal budgets and have become a legal right since 2008. But our experience during the last years has shown, that there are still many problems with the administration who grants the money for assistance. The personal budget is means-tested.

Those of us who had the possibility to leave institutions, those who live independently and have a job have to pay their personal assistance (beyond the work place) from their own pockets. They can only keep about €700 in addition to the rent. Even the wives or husbands of disabled people have to give their income to pay the personal assistance of their partners.

The structure of homes, nursing care, special schools and kindergartens is still strong. Only 13% of children with disabilities go to mainstream schools. It is difficult to reverse this. If you want to get people out of institutions, there are objections from the authorities, from disabled peoples parents, from staff members of the institutions and sometimes even from disabled people themselves. The latter are often afraid to leave their sheltered homes and need positive role models. Authorities object if institutionalization seems to be the cheaper way.

In Germany official disability policies mainly focus on labour market integration. A number of laws were reformed to also guarantee full participation in society to people with disabilities.

But legislation for personal assistance is still missing.


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