Inadequate Provision of Assistive Devices
The SWO is responsible for providing assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, and hearing aids. However, many persons Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights in Iran interviewed said that they encountered excessive waiting times to obtain free or subsidized supportive equipment from the SWO. People who did receive equipment were not satisfied with its quality and found the procedure for obtaining assistive devices overly complex. An article by a prominent social welfare scholar similarly noted the problem of inadequate, deficient, and unaffordable assistive devices for many persons with disabilities in Iran. In an interview in February 2017, Hossein Nahvinezhad, rehabilitation director of SWO, told the Iran News Agency that one million service requests from persons with disabilities are currently awaiting the SWO’s response with some people waiting on multiple requests.
For example, SWO offices provided only low-quality manual wheelchairs to some persons with physical disabilities, and often only after long delays. Persons with physical disabilities told Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights in Iran that the government-provided wheelchairs often broke after as few as four months to one year of use, and that they could only expect a new wheelchair four to five years after receiving the previous wheelchair. Many people also said they preferred to sell the government-issued wheelchair and buy a more sturdy one. Others kept the government-provided wheelchair for use for short distances or at home, and purchased another higher quality one for longer distances. Some of those who purchased wheelchairs said they did so relying on loans from friends or relatives.
Fatemeh, a wheelchair user in Tehran, said,
The government does not consider specific features for different disabilities in providing wheelchairs. They just provide one type of wheelchair known as a ‘hospital wheelchair.’ These wheelchairs are actually meant to transfer patients within hospitals, not for daily navigation for persons with disabilities. So, if we get them, we directly take them to sell.
People with disabilities who cannot independently use manual wheelchairs said that they had to purchase electronic wheelchairs at their own expense because the SWO does not provide them. Electronic wheelchairs cost between 50 million to 120 million IrI ($1,329.78 to $3,191.49) in Iran. Those who could not afford to purchase electronic wheelchairs said that they could be stuck at home for weeks or months. To leave home, they depend on someone to push the manual wheelchair.
For example, Arash told his social worker that the manual wheelchairs SWO provides do not work for him due to limitations he has in his hands. The social worker replied that electronic wheelchairs are “luxurious items” and he should not expect the government to provide such things. “I felt very disappointed and humiliated. I think these people have no understanding of disability and what it really means,” he said.
People interviewed also described the SWO’s often complicated and at times intrusive process to determine eligibility for a wheelchair. The SWO does not consistently communicate the criteria for eligibility. Some said that SWO social workers conducted a detailed investigation of their family’s financial situation before confirming their eligibility to be placed on waiting lists. This would often lead to people withdrawing their requests.For example, one person said that he had been asked to bring and show the broken wheelchair to get a new one.
Hassan, a 27-year-old man with physical disabilities living in Karaj, a city bordering the outskirts of Tehran, said,
When I see all the detailed questions that so many people ask me and the number of detailed documents I must provide only to be put on a waiting list and have no idea if and when this wheelchair would be provided, then I prefer to give up. It’s true that I need support because of my disability, but I still have my dignity and deserve to be treated with respect.