A guide to special needs services in the Netherlands
A wide array of organisations assists people with special needs in the Netherlands, from transport to education to holidays.
The Netherlands has legislation protecting the rights of people with a physical, mental, emotional, or sensory impairment that ensures equal access to social, economic and transport systems and encourages full participation in society. In typical Dutch fashion, multiple ministries and organisations coordinate policy. Your doctor, city hall or one of the major advice centres (ANGO, Ieder(in) or MEE) can point you in the right direction.
Experienced expats can also provide invaluable advice and support; start a thread on a forum such as Expatica Community, if existing threads don’t cover your query.
Old Dutch cities with narrow, uneven streets and bikes parked everywhere are not brilliant terrain for those in wheelchairs, but access is improving.
Help is available getting to/through Schiphol airport (www.schiphol.nl) and railways (www.ns.nl), and there’s a bureau for disabled travellers (call 030 235 7822 or register online) to request journey assistance. Your gemeente site will give local information, often in English, for the location of disabled parking places and other access issues, or look up zorg en welzijn and gehandicapten.
Wherever possible, children are encouraged to attend mainstream primary schools under the ‘Going to school together’ policy. A new Inclusive Education Act (Wet Passend Onderwijs) came into effect in 2014, which requires all schools to provide equal learning opportunities for every child.
The school of their choice – special or mainstream – will receive funding to cater for their needs, and the school will arrange assistance as required.
Parents can also opt for a special school, whether a speciaal basisonderwijs (SBO) for learning and behavourial support or a speciaal onderwijs (so) for specific special needs. The language of instruction is Dutch, but children from a non-Dutch background can sometimes be taught in their mother tongue to help them settle in. You will find SEN teachers at international schools (public and private) where the language of instruction will be (mostly) English but you may have to fund the assistant. Contact the school directly in the first instance. For higher education, ‘education and disability’ is an expert centre (www.onderwijsenhandicap.nl).
Many services (such as transport) are supported by government funding but there is also financial support for individual families, such as additional child benefit, healthcare and carer allowances, and adaptations to home or transport. Search the government welfare site www.svb.nl to see if you qualify for a carer’s allowance (TOG) or a personal budget (PGB) to cover support costs.
A combination of wheelchair accessible activities and accommodation can be found at www.accessibletravelnl.com, and restaurants from several sites (for example, www.dinnersite.nl). Good sources for sporty types include Stichting Resa (www.stichtingresa.nl) or www.fondsgehandicaptensport.nl. Amsterdam has a dedicated site detailing accessible buildings: www.toegankelijkamsterdam.nl.
De Zeeland (www.zeilenalacarte.nl) offers adapted sailing trips for wheelchair users and families, and some campsites such as De Ruimte (www.campingderuimte.nl) cater especially for children with special needs. Find out about accessible nature reserves and recreation areas at Staatsbosbeheer (www.staatsbosbeheer.nl). For farther travels, organised group trips are available at www.gehandicaptenreizen.nl.
Assistance organisations (links mostly in Dutch)
- ANGO: General Dutch Disability Organisation | +31 (0)33 465 4343 | www.ango.nl
- MEE: Support and help for living with a disability | +31 (0)900 999 88 88 | www.mee.nl
- Ieder(in): Network for the chronically ill and disabled (Formally known as CG-RaaD) | +31 (0)30 720 0000 | www.iederin.nl
- Accessibility Foundation: Accessible internet for all | +31 (0)30 239 82 70 | www.accessibility.nl
- Valys: Regional assisted transport | +31 (0)900 9630 | www.valys.nl
- NCTT: Dutch centre informing on public accessibility | +31 (0)23 574 8357 | www.nctt.nl
- Handilinks: A useful portal with lots of related links | www.handilinks.nl
- Dutch Autism Network: www.landelijknetwerkautisme.nl
- Down Syndrome Foundation (SDS): www.downsyndroom.nl
- Deaf/blind support: www.doofblind.nl
- Children/teenagers support: www.nsgk.nl; www.moov.nl
Updated from 2012.
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