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I was searching the subject of free transportation card in Germany i.e. if such a card is given at all in Germany and if so, it is given to whom: those who are severely disabled, those who are older than 65, etc.

I've found this German site which seemed to answer my questions. Free transportation card (der Ausweis) is given to those are subject to these conditions:

1- Hilflosigkeit

2- Blindheit

The meaning of "Hilflosigkeit" as used in the context of this site is not given in any dictionary sites I use: dict.leo.org, linguee.de It's not given in my PONS Großes Schulwörterbuch either.

So this word Hilflosigkeit should be meaning indirectly (or given the lack of adequate information may I say "unofficially") Schwerbehinderung / severe disability.

What is the scope of Hilflosigkeit ?

Does it cover a person who lost one of his/her legs and so can walk by him/herself? Or a person who is obliged to a wheelchair (i.e. a person who lost both of his/her legs)?

3 Answers 3

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Hilflosigkeit is actually an official classification of level of handicap a person has. To receive official benefits based on your handicap, you need a Schwerbehindertenausweis - To obtain this requires a relatively complicated procedure ("Antrag") that will involve you to expose all of your case history and extend the confidentiality between your doctors to the officials potentially granting the benefits.

Based on the consultations with your doctors, the authorities will issue a Schwerbehindertenausweis that will also classify your level of handicap, as mentioned above. (Levels are described here)

Hilflosigkeit is defined in this context as requires constant support by another person (for example "needs help with ingestion, dress/undress, ...").

"Hilflosigkeit" outside this context is quite a bit different - A non-handicapped person is "hilflos" when they can't handle a specific situation themselves like in

Wenn meine Frau eine Reifenpanne hat, ist sie total hilflos - sie kann keinen Reifen wechseln

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  • Thank you for the answer. So, the link (enableme.de) explains comprehensively what that "Hilflosigkeit" is all about by giving concrete examples like "Beispiele hierfür sind das An- und Auskleiden sowie die selbstständige Körperpflege und Nahrungsaufnahme" which you've translated into English too. That clears it up. So it looks like that word "Hilflosigkeit" has some special meaning in the legal context. Maybe that's why it's not included in the ordinary dictionaries.
    – Terry
    Aug 25, 2023 at 16:37
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It's probably helpful to give a short overview over how disability is formally treated in Germany.

If a person is disabled, they can apply to have this formally recognized (Feststellung der Behinderung). The severity of the disability is expressed in the Grad der Behinderung (GdB), which could be translated as "degree of disability". The scale starts at 20, increases in steps of 10 and ends at 100. It's often understood as a percentage, even though this technically isn't correct. So you'll hear things like

Mein Großvater ist zu 70% schwerbehindert.
My grandfather is disabled to 70%.

There's a quite complex system what disability, medical condition etc. would equal what GdB. If a person has a GdB formally recognized, they can get Nachteilsausgleiche, which could be translated as "compensation of disadvantages" or "compensation of disabilities". This could mean a certain tax exemption, additional protection in the workplace (Kündigungsschutz) and an array of other compensations. For example, some car dealers give additional discounts if a disabled person buys a new car (and can prove it with a formally recognized GdB). The rules in this regard are quite complex as well.

If a person's GdB is at 50 or higher, the person is said to be schwerbehindert ("heavily disabled" or "severely disabled"). If that's the case, the person can apply for a Schwerbehindertenausweis ("severly handicapped pass"). The Schwerbehindertenausweis notes the GdB as well as any Merkzeichen that may apply to the person's condition. Those Merkzeichen give further specification to the type of the person's disability.

For example, the Merkzeichen "G" means "gehbehindert", "impaired with regards to walking". The Merkzeichen "aG" means "außergewöhnlich gehbehindert", "severly impaired with regards to walking". "Bl" denotes that the person is blind or visually impaired, and so forth.

And now finally the "Hilflosigkeit" comes into play. "H" or "Hilflosigkeit" ("helplessness") is one of the Merkzeichen that can appear on a Schwerbehindertenausweis. The legal definition is that the person

für eine Reihe von häufig und regelmäßig wiederkehrenden Verrichtungen zur Sicherung ihrer persönlichen Existenz im Ablauf eines jeden Tages fremder Hilfe dauernd bedarf.

needs help by another person for a list of often and regularly reoccurring tasks that secure their personal existence during the course of every day.

(You may find it telling that this definition is codified in income tax law)

So, according to einfach-teilhaben.de, a person can use the public local transport (Öffentlicher Personen-Nahverkehr, ÖPNV) for free if

  • they have a GdB formally recognized
  • their GdB is at least 50 and they have a Schwerbehindertenausweis
  • that Schwerbehindertenausweis shows the Merkzeichen H (Hilflosigkeit) or Bl (Blindheit).

Whether or not a person would get a Merkzeichen can't really be predicted (except for extreme cases, maybe) without actually going through the formal process of applying.

Which office is concerned with the Feststellung der Behinderung can vary from region to region. Sometimes it's the local Versorgungsamt, sometimes a municipal office, sometimes the social services of the Bundesland and so forth.

As you see, the system is quite complex and I would refrain from giving hard-and-fast recommendations.

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  • Thank you for the answer. It explains the matter in question quite well. Meanwhile, I'm from Turkey. My interest in "free transportation card / FTP in Germany" is started after a friend of mine who is about 40 years of age said that he was considering to get a free transportation card by getting a health report stating %40 disability! In Turkey, the treshold for getting a FTP is 40% disability. In German terms, I think that translates to "GdB" which must be %50 to get FTP. You might guess that this FTP thing is being abused in Turkey.
    – Terry
    Aug 25, 2023 at 17:00
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    I@Terry f you go into the details, things get really complicated. To get a Schwerbehindertenausweis, you need to have a GdB of at least 50 (otherwise, you'd be only "behindert", but not "schwerbehindert"). What I learned today: To ride the ÖPNV for free, you not only need a Schwerbehindertenausweis with the correct Merkzeichen, but also a so called Beiblatt mit Wertmarke, a supplemental sheet with a token. For the token, you have to pay 46 € for six months or 91 € for a year at the Versorgungsamt. So it's not completely free, but probably a lot cheaper than the regular ticket. Aug 25, 2023 at 19:41
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Hilflos is a particular category in the disablity pass. It is meant for people who don't have a physical disabilty but who cannot be left unattended. It's actually an euphemism for mentally deranged.

This conforms to other uses of the word hilflose Person in German officialese, where it means someone who roams without aim, or who is cornered at some place and cannot free themselves.

In common talk, hilflos means incapable and e.g. in terms as hilfloses Gehampel it means someone does a lot of aimless fuss.

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  • "Hilflosigkeit" in the context of the Schwerbehindertenausweis has next to nothing to do with "mentally deranged". It rather means "needs constant attendance"
    – tofro
    Aug 25, 2023 at 13:30
  • Thank you for the answer. As a foreigner (I'm from Turkey) when I see the word "hilflos" I tend to think of someone who is in need of psychological assistence or even a homeless (obdachtlos?) person. In the context of "Free Transportation Card" my first gues was someone who is bound to wheelchair (der Rollstuhl).
    – Terry
    Aug 25, 2023 at 17:37
  • That free transportation is meant to balance the need for attendance. Technically it's not the hilflose person who gets the free ride but their assistant.
    – Janka
    Aug 25, 2023 at 18:41

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