Disability and poverty are often inextricably intertwined. While poverty can be the source of disabilities (for instance, malnutrition during childbirth causing deformities), disabilities can also force someone into poverty through various means. Physical and mental impairments can limit access to transportation, job opportunities and much more. Thus, one cannot fully address one issue without the other. In Colombia, the government has been moving in accordance with this knowledge to address the links between disability and poverty in Colombia.
According to the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, as of 2020, about 1.3 million people in Colombia lived with disabilities, typically resulting from general sickness or accidents. About 15% of these disabilities have resulted from the armed conflict that has plagued parts of the country. A 2022 study by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), found that only one in five persons with disabilities in Colombia are employed. The government and organizations are taking action to improve the lives of people with disabilities and safeguard their rights.
Disability Law in Colombia
The Colombian government passed comprehensive legislation protecting the rights of the disabled in 1997. Businesses may not discriminate against job applicants on the basis of how able-bodied they may be. Products and services must also accommodate the needs of the disabled when possible. These pieces of legislation are a crucial first step for any country in allowing the disabled to have access to resources and opportunities.
The Colombian government has also signed onto the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, which affirms its commitment to “[protecting] the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities,” on an international scale.
Colombia has long struggled with internal conflict in the form of guerilla war. While recent peace accords have begun a process of reintegrating ex-combatants into society, this process has often overlooked the needs of those with disabilities. As a result, many former fighters are now facing disability and poverty in Colombia. This is particularly relevant in rural areas, where new infrastructure, medical assistance and economic opportunities have failed to reach those most in need.
Successes in Advocacy
Within Colombia and throughout Latin America, people with disabilities have been utilizing incluyeme.com, a website launched in 2013 that seeks to empower people with disabilities from both ends of the labor market: the employee and the employer. More than 20,000 Latin Americans with disabilities have found employment through the website. More than 600 companies that have endorsed the organization provide many of these jobs. Overall, the organization takes pride in its ability to connect people facing disability and poverty in Colombia with opportunities regardless of the withstanding handicaps.
On a more local scale, organizations such as Corfrodis (Corporation Frontineño for people with disabilities) have worked to provide economic resources to the disabled. According to ReliefWeb, in one instance, a woman by the name of Patricia Valderiama received 10 chickens to help kick-start a business, seeing as her disability prevented her from working. After making quite a profit, the money she made was donated back to the organization to fund the next batch of chickens for another person with disabilities. In general, Corfordis has helped the disabled in Frontino to manage money and become entrepreneurs.
These projects serve as great reminders of how simple and achievable it can be to improve the circumstances of those in need. Downsizing poverty can begin with just providing people with the right website (as is the case with incluyeme.com) or even a few chickens. While it appears that there is still room for much more progress in order to fully uphold the rights of people facing disability and poverty in Colombia, the path ahead seems promising.
– Sophia Cordoba