Unnecessarily Restrictive Disability Definition
There is no internationally accepted definition of disability. The CRPD describes people with disabilities as including those “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Iran’s 2004 disability law defines a person with a disability as:[A]ny person who, based on diagnosis of the SWO Medical Commissions, has physical, intellectual, mental, or multiple impairments amounting to continuous and considerable deficiency in their health and general functioning to the level that the person’s social and economic independence is reduced.
This definition reflects a medical model by focusing on an individual’s health and functioning as determiners of disability. It also suggests that the government excludes conditions as disabilities in some way determined to be “less severe” or non-continuous. SWO Director Anooshiravan Mohseni Bandpei confirmed in a 2016 news interview that “only those having severe or very severe disabilities are covered by the SWO.” SWO Rehabilitation Director Hosein Nahvinejad described the government’s approach as:
In our definition, only a person who has an impairment hindering their life course and requires rehabilitative interventions is accepted as a disabled person. Based on field studies … we found that 2 percent of the population have higher than moderate level of disabilities requiring rehabilitation.
For persons with psychosocial disabilities, only those who are identified as having “chronic mental disease” are registered as persons with disabilities with the SWO. A person with a “chronic mental disease” is defined by having a psychological disease that has been continuous for at least the past two years and who has been hospitalized for their mental condition more than once in the last two years. The individual must also currently face social or professional dysfunction.
As a result of this overly restrictive definition, a large number of persons with psychosocial disabilities are not able to register with the SWO and receive SWO services. According to a 2011 Ministry of Health study, 23.6 percent of 15 to 64-year-olds in Iran (12.5 million persons) had some mental health condition. However, only a very small number of persons with mental health conditions, approximately 103,000 persons who have been assessed as having “chronic mental diseases” are currently registered with the SWO and thus eligible for support services.
Farah, a woman with psychosocial disabilities, said she has not been able to register with the SWO because she refused to be hospitalized. She said, “My mom worked in a mental hospital for many years and knew that they used electronic shock [Electroconvulsive Therapy] there. She didn’t want me to go through it, so I was never hospitalized and then never got the chance to register with SWO.”