We recently applied for new passports for Hubby and the kids. You’d imagine applying for a passport would be a fairly straight forward process. Take proof of identity, fill out the forms and that’s that. Although Hubby and AJ’s passports were simple enough, BJ’s took three trips to the post office to get to the point of submitting the application. We thought we’d share our experience in the hope of saving others this exasperating and time-wasting process. Here’s a few tips for applying for a passport for a person with a disability.
CHALLENGE NUMBER 1
Our first challenge was getting a photo where BJ wasn’t smiling and had his head positioned in a way which would be acceptable to the Passport Office. This took great patience and persistence. BJ was a total challenge for the guy in the store because he just sat there looking at the camera with a huge smile plastered across his face. Of course the situation wasn’t helped by us falling about laughing as we attempted to get him to close his mouth.
Part of BJ’s cerebral palsy is a lack of control of his muscles so voluntarily closing his mouth just wasn’t happening. In the end I worked out if he looked at the wallet in his lap, his mouth closed as he looked down. When he looked back up there was a couple of seconds before he smiled again. The guy taking the photos got in sync with us and mission accomplished.
The Australian Passport Office (and I’m sure it will be similar the world over) have quite specific requirements when it comes to a passport photo due to the facial recognition technology. In Australia the regulations state the photo must be –
- Good quality, colour gloss prints, less than six months old
- Clear, focused image with no marks or ‘red eye’
- Plain white or light grey background that contrasts with your face
- Uniform lighting (no shadows or reflections) with appropriate brightness and contrast to show natural skin tone
- Face looking directly at the camera and not tilted in any direction
- Hair off the face so that the edges of the face are visible
- Eyes open, mouth closed
- Neutral expression (not smiling, laughing or frowning), which is the easiest way for border systems to match you to your image.
For BJ’s photo we went to a photo store where the staff are familiar with BJ. If you don’t have someone who is familiar, I suggest going into the store in advance, speak with the staff, explain the potential challenges of getting the photo and find out the quietest time of day in the store. You don’t want to feel pressured and you want the staff to have time to spend on getting the right shot. If you don’t get a good impression of the staff, or feel they don’t understand, don’t go back to have the photos taken there. It’s important you and the person needing the photo have a good experience.
This was a hot topic when I posted it on our Facebook page. I thought it would be interesting to share the varied difficulties people had and the solutions they found –
Lucy said – My son’s “teeth positioning doesn’t really allow his mouth to shut and he is also perpetually smiling. We had to get a doctor’s note to accompany his passport application explaining why he couldn’t close his mouth OR sign his own name.”
Bruce shared – “Lots of struggles here, firstly finding a place that would actually take the photo for us, many refused because they couldn’t get it right due to Luke’s poor trunk control and strong ATNR to the right. Eventually we found a photographer who lay Luke on the floor on a white background and managed to capture a good photo at the moment when his head was turned midline and he wasn’t smiling. I was actually disappointed at the many companies including Australia Post who refused to take the photo.”
Jannette said – “we had to get a doctor’s letter for my son’s first passport when he was two as he has craniosyntosis (I like to translate as wonky head – he has a very tall skinny head which is very lopsided) and it was technically impossible to get the even amounts of “space” around his head! Luckily the issue is not as bad now he has more hair!”
Angela said – “Years ago we had to explain that my daughter’s vision impairment meant that she couldn’t look directly at the camera for the passport photo. Took a bit of convincing but they accepted it in the end!”
Michelle shared – “We had to provide a medical certificate with his passport photo as it didn’t meet the standards.”
Marissa shared – “It took us an hour to get our daughter’s done – and the folks at CVS didn’t mind. Her eyes “wander” so she wasn’t always looking at the camera. And her attention isn’t so.great and the picture area is right next to the candy aisle.”
Janie shared – My son “was 8 months old when we got his first passport and couldn’t sit up unaided. Was a real struggle and the woman in the shop gave up after an hour of failing. I took him home, sat him in his bumbo (that I had with me but she refused to use saying you’d see it) and had the pic after 3 goes. It was eyes open and showing both ears that was the challenge for us.”
Now that BJ is an adult it was expected he would sign the passport. Knowing this wasn’t possible I phoned the passport office. They advised we could fill out a B11 form declaring BJ couldn’t sign or we could get a doctor’s certificate stating he couldn’t sign. I avoid the doctor’s office at all costs if it’s not necessary, so we printed out the B11 form and filled it out. However, when Hubby took BJ to the post office to submit it they assured him he needed a doctor’s certificate stating his disability and his inability to sign.
Don’t cut corners, just get a doctor’s certificate.
Identification was our final challenge. BJ had his old passport, Medicare card and birth certificate. These weren’t enough for an adult’s application. A combination of proof of identity is required including proof of residence ie a drivers licence, utilities bill etc. As BJ doesn’t have a drivers licence, or pay the bills, this was tricky. In the end BJ’s Pensioner Concession Card was accepted as it has our home address on it. We also needed to get a second guarantor on his application to verify his identity. Although many people with a disability would have bills and a drivers licence I’m sure we are not alone in not having these items.
You can check the accepted forms of identification on the Australian Passport website here.
Since having the difficulties with getting BJ’s passport application completed we’ve applied for a photo ID card. It was a simple process. I took BJ to the NSW Transport Roads and Maritime Services local office with the completed form, his birth certificate and Medicare card. Once again we had a challenge with the photo as BJ couldn’t help but smile, but the staff were excellent and made applied for an exemption for the smiling guy! A week later we had the card.
Once your child becomes an adult, apply for a photo card in your state. In NSW this is issued by the NSW Transport Roads & Maritime Services. This is accepted as equivalent identification to a drivers licence. Each state has a different age and requirements so check the applicable link below for full details.
NSW Proof of Age Card information can be found on the NSW Transport Roads & Maritime Services website.
ACT Proof of Age Card information is here.
Northern Territory Proof of Age Card information is here.
Queensland Proof of Age Card information is here.
South Australian Proof of Age Card information can be found here.
Tasmanian Proof of Age Card information can be found here.
Victorian Proof of Age Card information can be found here.
Western Australian Photo Card (proof of age) information can be found here.
The staff at the post office assured us this makes applying for a passport when you have a disability and can’t sign much simpler.
It took three trips to the post office to submit the application so now we have fingers crossed everything is accepted and processed without hassle. I hope this blog post helps others avoid these delays and frustrations and just get on with happy travels.
I’m keen to hear any other tips our readers have so please share them in comments below or over on our Facebook page.