Answer to a question from a reader

Can I be denied a disability grant because I have orthopaedic or prosthetic device?

The short answer

If your disability has been improved or corrected with assistive technology, you may no longer qualify for the grant.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am struggling to apply for a disability grant even though I was diagnosed as disabled many years ago. I was involved in a car crash in 1995 and, after many operations, my one leg is significantly shorter than the other. 

I have been sent from pillar to post by one SASSA doctor. He told me if I get orthopaedic shoes, then I can't get the grant. 

The long answer

Just to get the legal view point: Legal Aid says that “a disability grant is intended to provide for the basic needs of adults who are unfit for work due to a mental or physical disability. They say that the applicant should not have refused work that they are capable of doing, and should not have refused treatment. The disability must be confirmed by a valid medical report of a medical officer stating whether the disability is temporary or permanent.”’s guidelines for medical assessments for disability grants says that an applicant for a disability grant cannot, without good reason, refuse to undergo the necessary medical treatment or other treatment recommended by a medical practitioner. They add that where the abnormality involves your limbs, “other professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists are indeed better skilled than doctors in determining the degree of impairment and thence disability.”

Zithulele says, “Any individual who deliberately defaults treatment can be refused social assistance regardless of the degree of impairment present. Similarly, if an applicant’s condition has been accommodated or corrected with assistive technology resulting in mitigation of the disability, such applicant may no longer qualify for a disability grant.”

They say that the medical officer must report to SASSA in writing within 7 days of gaining any such knowledge of any failure or refusal by an applicant or beneficiary to undergo the medical treatment recommended. 

It is of course also the case that, as a 2018 article on the Development Pathway website on social protection and disability points out, many of the medical doctors doing the assessments do not have “adequate training or capacity to undertake assessments to the required standard”. They point out that the doctors doing the assessments are employed by the state, and they only receive administrative training from SASSA staff, which does not teach the doctors how to undertake assessments. As a result, these doctors may each be using their own criteria to make assessments and reach decisions. 

Zithulele points out, though, that it is not the doctor who decides if you get a disability grant or not. The doctor’s function is to report to SASSA their objective opinion on the disability. It is SASSA’s duty to consider the facts in the report by the doctor and come to a decision on whether you meet the definition of a disabled person in terms of section 9(b) of the Social Assistance Act. (Section 9(b) says, “A disabled person is, owing to a physical or mental disability, unfit to obtain by virtue of any service, employment or profession the means needed to enable him or her to provide for his or her maintenance.”)

One of the questions in the musculoskeletal section is “whether this patient would benefit from any orthopaedic or prosthetic device”.

For an assistive device, you can go to your nearest primary healthcare facility, where you will either be assisted at the facility or be referred to the most appropriate rehabilitation professional for an assessment based on the device that is needed. It is important that you receive the correct device that has been programmed or adjusted according to your specific needs.

In the Western Cape, you can be referred to the Orthotic and Prosthetic Centre in Pinelands Centre (Tel: 021 531 5300).

They say that If you are unemployed or dependent on any government grant, the service is free. However, if you are disabled but employed or on a medical aid scheme you will be charged according to your income or charges will be added to your medical aid scheme. Exceptions are made for those who earn a low income and cannot afford the medical expenses. To qualify, you will need to produce a copy of your identity document (ID), most recent payslip and an affidavit.

It may be worth asking advice from organisations such as the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and Disability info South Africa (DiSA), which represent the interests of all persons with disabilities in South Africa. 

The contact details for the NCPD are:

Tel: 011 452 2774 


“Disability info South Africa (DiSA) was started in 2015 by Alan Downey in Plumstead, Cape Town ‘to provide a Free One - Stop Information Service, which not only gives easy access to information via our website, but also through our free contact centre, offering advice and guidance to those in need’.”

DiSA contact details: 


Tel: 021 761 4831

Mobile and WhatsApp: 0845049176

As the Black Sash too has a lot of experience with these issues, it may be helpful for you to ask for their help and advice as well: 

These are their contact details:


Helpline: 072 66 33 73 or 072 633 3739 or 063 610 1865.

The Western Cape government website says that if your disability application isn’t approved, you must be given valid reasons in writing for why it was declined. You have the right to ask SASSA to reconsider your application. You can also appeal to the Minister of Social Development in writing, explaining why you disagree. This appeal must be lodged within 90 days of you being informed that your application has been declined.

You can contact the SASSA National Call Centre at 0800 601011.

Below is a summary of a 2019 article by Grocotts Mail on the procedure to follow when appealing a SASSA decision:

The process:

  • You have a right to appeal within 90 days of receiving your letter from SASSA declining your disability grant application, and giving reasons why;

  • The appeal is conducted by the Independent Tribunal for Social Assistance Appeals;

  • But before you can appeal to the Tribunal, you must use the internal SASSA appeal mechanism, which means you must submit a written ‘Application for Reconsideration’ to SASSA;

  • If SASSA does not reconsider, you must submit the following documents to the Tribunal:

  1. Proof of your application;

  2. Previous or current medical reports;

  3. Proof of your income and assets;

  4. The SASSA rejection letter. 

If the Tribunal does not reverse the SASSA decision, you can go to court to challenge it. You can also file a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The SAHRC says that disability is one of their seven focus areas to promote and protect human rights in South Africa.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on May 27, 2024, 1:06 p.m.

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