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!

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11 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!)

    • It does not sadly. As the mom of a child (well baby really) with physical disabilities I recently dealt with the Passport Office. It’s somewhat easier if you only have physical impairments (no learning disability as far as I can tell).

  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

  7. I remember the day I had to fill out the paperwork for my son’s first ever baby passport. On the form I wish there was a tick box that you can use to tell them that your child has a physical disability that is not likely to change. Would be better than me explaining that yes Daniel has permanent mobility issues (he was diagnosed with Spina Bifida before birth) and no improvement is expected. Not very efficient and helpful to those with physical disabilities either. Shocking. I dread having to fill out his first Blue Badge application for this reason as well. Not impressed. Our lives are complicated enough as it is we do not want to fill out more paperwork then required. I get these sorts of questions every time when I complete a questionnaire or form for my little man and I completely hate them. Rant over. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

    • Hi Leah. It’s all about the paperwork I’m afraid. Don’t forget the 40+ page forms for applying for benefits (certainly for PIP and Universal Credit).

      • Sorry I have been really busy since I wrote that. I am looking forward to the day when he turns 17 and I will have to encourage him to take responsibility and apply for his own benefits and find a job opportunity. More paperwork and forms but hopefully he will be able to help me complete the paperwork. We don’t have any experience with PIP yet (our son is still a baby 18 months old).

        I hate the word cognitive impairments so much (what is he the federal government)? He is actually like his twin sister in many ways. Unfortunately they can’t see that all they see is the numbers and limitations and diagnoses. So sad.

        I’ve taught children with physical impairments and mobility issues (these kids are some of the funniest brightest and inspirational people I’ve ever met).

  8. I hate the passport office. They frustrate me so much. It’s somewhat like filling out the DLA form (a killer form of the most difficult questions to answer). I love paperwork though. When we applied for our first child passport I contacted the office by phone and explained he had a disability to them. After me arguing with the cunt I forced them to basically accept our application form the first time round.

    After all I’m a busy mom to two young children one of which cannot walk unaided at all. This happened around this time last year when they were six months old. We got passports for both kids several weeks after we applied. I predict a lifetime of paperwork and forms in our future. Unfortunately.

    I’ve always loved to fill out any form of paperwork but no not so much. I’ve had to fill this horrible form for Daniel to get some kind of financial assistance and benefits. Every time I have to complete the killer form of sucky questions basically to apply for DLA I cry a little inside as I do it.

    Not very efficient and effective especially considering how much we special needs parents face on a daily basis. I’d happily pass on a letter or report that comes from one of his therapists or specialists detailing his physical disability and why he does need a Blue Badge and high rate mobility and middle rate care instead of me having to complete yet another pointless form of questions. I’ll take the practical advice of his social worker and a glass of wine instead of the booklet that comes attached for us to chart his limitations and his impairments. Oh and the guide came in handy when I was asked to complete the form that is the death of me.

    But I digress here.

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