Applying for an Adult Passport When You Have a Learning Disability

Oh joy! Harry’s passport has expired. The passport he had held since the age of 13 will no longer do and he has to have his first adult passport.

I filled in the new passport details online at the Home Office’s Identity & Passport Service website. Within a few days the pre-printed form had arrived ready for Harry to sign and return. Ah… I spy a problem. Harry’s literacy skills are very limited. If pushed he can read basic C-V-C (Consonant-Vowel-Consanant) words like Mum, Dad, Cat, Dog, etc. But he can’t read a form. And he can’t sign his name. He can make an attempt at a signature which usually ends up looking something like ‘H-a-n-n-g’ but it isn’t consistent. And anyway, he shouldn’t be signing his name to a form he can’t read (a sticking point which I have had to argue with banks, building societies and even our GP surgery quite recently).

So I read through the accompanying ‘A guide to filling in your passport application form’ and on page 12 found the relevant note:

If you cannot sign the application form

If you have … a disabilty that means you … cannot sign the application form, you should call the Passport Adviceline on 0300 222 0000.

Which I duly did. After negotiating the automated menu options I eventually spoke to a young man who had to put me on hold whilst he conferred with his supervisor. It transpired that if someone has a learning disability then the person filling in the form on their behalf has to:

  • Enclose a letter stating that the applicant is unable to sign because s/he has a learning disability.
  • At Section 8 in the application form called ‘More Information’ state “See accompanying letter. Applicant has a learning disability.”
  • At Section 9, the ‘Declaration’, sign the form on behalf of the applicant, state your name and relationship to the applicant.

Thankfully relatively straightforward. Now to get new passport photographs taken – less straightforward since this will involve: firstly, a trip to the barber’s and secondly, a trip to the photo-booth.

Trips to the barber’s have become less traumatic over the years. There was a time when Harry couldn’t bear the noise of the scissors snip-snip-snipping around his ears, let alone the electric trimmers buzzing. He has obviously become less sensitive to these particular sounds.

Then there was the encounter with the barber who said Harry reminded her of the kid in ‘The Sixth Sense’, Hayley Joel Osment: “I see dead people…” Needless to say, we haven’t been back there since!

The new barber is great. I have to be there to tell her what Harry wants doing with his hair and to remind him to look at himself in the mirror and sit up straight. He is still slightly anxious about the experience: as soon as she’s finished, Harry leaps out of the chair and whips off the black protective gown whilst I pay.

A little more off the top, Sir?

Looking spruce it is time for the photographs. The barber has given us some useful information. A nearby electrical shop does passport photos. Not in a booth; they are taken by a man with a digital camera and I realise this will work much better for Harry. I had wondered how I was going to get him to look straight ahead and not smile. After years of begging Harry to smile for the camera, now I was going to be expressly telling him not to!

The man in the shop was very patient whilst I told Harry repeatedly not to smile and to “look at the man with the camera”. In the end I had to stand behind the photographer to encourage Harry to look straight ahead, not off to the side at me and his sister! But it worked. After three or four attempts we had a photograph that the Passport Office would accept.

And Harry will soon have his first 10-year passport, another step on the road to adulthood.

Don’t smile!


6 responses to “Applying for an Adult Passport When You Have a Learning Disability

  1. So this is what my future holds! I read your article in The Guardian by the way. Good to get some national awareness. Well done!

  2. Beth could sign the form (but didn’t really know what it was). They wanted her to go for an interview but I phoned & told them about her disabilities and in the end they accepted a letter from her GP. Also I just got Dad to take the photos at home & he adjusted that background so it was the “right” shade of grey.
    On the whole I wouldn’t say the Passport Office was geared up at all for folks with learning disabilities or autism. (this may not surpise you!)

  3. With the photos we haven’t used a booth for ages. I always take the children to a shop. Somewhere like ‘snappy snaps’ and I also use the trick of standing behind the person with the camera to get B to look the right way. Glad it worked.

  4. Yolanda Broome

    Thanks so much! I am about to apply for my daughter’s first passport, and this information was truly helpful!

  5. Hi, was just filling in my sons first adult passport & was unsure about siging on his behalf as he has autism so googled it & your comments came up. Was laughing reading it as it could have been me writing it. Thanks very much for the information, really appreciate it.

  6. Thanks so much for doing this on other’s behalf. Googled as previous commentor did and this came up. So helpful and have filled in and be posting off this week. Thanks again

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