Disability in Columbia: a wheelchair icon on top of the Colombian flag.

Disability in Colombia: Definition, Laws, Employment and Social Status

Disability is a universal phenomenon but people’s attitude towards disability is not! At WeCapable, we are sharing a series of articles that takes you on a tour to different places around the world to understand the conditions of people with disability and their rights at those respective places. In this article let us visit Colombia, lovingly known as the Soda City (You may Google the reason), and see how it treats people with disabilities living there.

Definition of Disability in Colombia

Disability, as defined in Colombia, is –

  • physical, mental, intellectual or sensory deficiencies
  • in medium and long term
  • affecting full and effective participation in society, on equal terms with others
  • by interacting with various barriers, including attitudinal barrier

So, we see that physical, mental, intellectual and sensory limitations are considered a disability in Colombia if they affect the person in the medium or long term. Limitations in the short-term are not considered a disability. Further, an attention-grabbing element of the definition of disability in Colombia is that it recognizes ‘attitudinal barrier’ too.

Disability Statistics Colombia

According to the 2005 census, 6.4% of the Colombian population were reported to be living with some form of disability. But, according to the estimates of the Colombian Constitutional Court and various social organizations more than 15% of people in Colombia may be affected with one or the other type of disability.

Statistics on education and employment, drawn on the basis of Demographic Health Survey 2015, shows that there isn’t a great difference between the employment and education percentages of people with disability and their non-disabled counterparts. This is an important indicator as it reaffirms that people with disabilities enjoy equal rights and opportunities as the non-disabled population of Colombia. The unemployment rate in the age group of 15 to 24 is 5% for persons with disabilities and 6% for persons without disabilities. The unemployment rate in the age group of 25 to 64 is 3% for disabled as well as non-disabled Colombians. The percentage of Youth (15-24) not in education, employment or training is 4% for people with disability and 5% for people without disability.

Disability in Columbia: a wheelchair icon on top of the Colombian flag.

Over 46% of the registered persons with disabilities are above 60 years of age. Colombia has an ageing society in which over 13% of people above 60 years are inflicted with one or the other kind of disability. Interestingly, a greater percentage of males are affected with disability in the age group of 0 to 26 years while a higher percentage of women over 45 have some kind of disability.

Disability-Related Laws in Colombia

People with Disabilities in Colombia are given special protection guaranteeing their human rights with legal as well as constitutional backing. The Social Model of Disability and the right-based approach have gained prominence in recent decades in Colombia. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified in 2011 and this changed the policy-making approach of the Colombian government. Earlier the policymakers treated disability as a matter of public health and rehabilitation rather than a human rights issue.

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The Colombian Constitution 1991

Persons with disabilities in Colombia are granted special protection of their human rights through the constitution of 1991. All the issues relating to the human rights of persons with disabilities are incorporated in the constitution which means the public authorities can directly work on the implementation without any need for the development of particular legislation.

Law 1618 of 2013

The law was enacted to guarantee and ensure the effective exertion of the rights of persons with disabilities. The provisions of the law are aimed at-

  • adopting measures of inclusion
  • affirmative actions for the empowerment of persons with disabilities
  • providing reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities wherever possible, and
  • eliminating all forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Employment-Related Laws and Provisions

Many provisions have been made and implemented in Colombia to enhance employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

  • During the bidding processes for public contracts, companies with at least 10% of employees with disabilities are given the preference, under otherwise equal conditions. This means if companies A and B are competing for a public contract where they are equal in all parameters. The company with 10% or more employees with disabilities will win the bidding.
  • The apprenticeship quota mandated by the law can be reduced by 50% if the hired persons have a disability of over 25%

Social Status of Persons with Disabilities in Columbia

As discussed above social model of disability has been the trend in Colombia recently. This means it is believed that it is the social barriers that disables a person, not their impairment. The right-based approach of the legal framework too has helped persons with disabilities gain equal opportunities in society.

However, it would be an overstatement if we say that persons with disabilities enjoy perfectly equal status in society. Despite the protection given by the constitution and various laws, many people with disabilities face challenges in attainment, retention and advancement in gainful employment. There are many instances where persons with disabilities are treated as unworthy and incapable. In some cases, even the family members do not encourage inclusion.

Obviously, there are challenges but a lot of efforts are being put into overcoming the challenges and creating a society where everybody, including persons with disabilities, enjoys their human rights.

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