Speak Easy
  2017 April 26    Hotel reservation  NEW SITE (closed)  NEW SITE !!!  
DESTINATIONS
 COUNTRY INFO
Disabled Travelers
 
 


 The rights, treatment, and opportunities of people with disabilities is a focal issue in almost every country, and one that becomes far more serious in developing countries, where those with disabilities are significantly more likely to live in poverty. The role of malnutrition and poor health care in causing disabilities also leads to a greater number of people with disabilities in countries severely affected by poverty, such as Bolivia. Despite the plethora of definitions of disability that have been proposed, the classification of disability currently most widely accepted is that stated by the International Classification of Impairment, Disability and Handicap. This claims that disability comprises ‘any restriction, or lack, resulting from an impairment, of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being’. This definition is considered most accurate and comprehensive, as it focuses on an individual’s reaction to their environment rather than the specific nature of their disability. While the Bolivian National Institute of Statistics’ most liberal estimate allows for just over 87 000 people with disabilities in Bolivia, according to the World Health Organisation, 10% of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability, which would mean that Bolivia’s disabled population numbers closer to 827 000. The apparent intentions of the Bolivian government with regards to its disabled citizens are generally benevolent, however implementation, regulation and enforcement of legislation has proved an overwhelming problem. The cornerstone of disability rights policy in Bolivia is the Persons with Disabilities Act, Law 1678, passed in 1995. Prior to this act, there was little legal protection for Bolivians with disabilities, as the country’s constitution makes no specific mention of disabled citizens in its section on individual rights. The 1995 act, however, explicitly states the inclusion of those with disabilities under the constitution’s protection. These include rights to education, employment, health care, vocational training, rehabilitation and access to public areas, although in reality very few of these are adequately provided. Law 1678 also created the National Committee of People with Disabilities (CONALPEDIS), the body that works to ensure the terms of the act are carried out, and that penalties against those who violate such terms are performed appropriately. The group is comprised of government ministers and representatives and non-governmental disability organisations. Half of the organisation’s members are themselves people with disabilities. CONALPEDIS operates on a system of departmental committees in addition to the central national committee. While there should be nine of these committees, only six are currently in operation and of these, only four have access to an annual budget. There is little coordination between these departmental organisations, and CONALPEDIS has no long term or centralised plans or programs, although the body is attempting to coordinate annual meetings at a national level. The Ombudsman’s Office is the government body responsible for keeping records of discrimination or abuse against people with disabilities, while the head of the Ombudsman’s program on human rights of people with disabilities deals with legal cases involving disabilities. The Bolivian government has also displayed its attitude towards people with disabilities through its compliance with, and acceptance of international legislation and action. In April 2002, the Bolivian government ratified the Inter-American Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities, as well as having signed and ratified the International Labour Organisation’s vocational rehabilitation and employment (disabled persons) convention. The government has also expressed its support for the United Nations’ convention for the rights of people with disabilities. Several disability organisations in Bolivia have, however, criticised the government’s lack of participation in the Iberian-American year of people with disabilities, as 2004 was designated at the Iberian-American Summit held in Santa Cruz in late 2003. International interest in the situation in Bolivia for those with disabilities has also been shown by several organisations. The International Disability Rights Monitor has compiled an extensive report on the rights of Bolivians with disabilities and the problems they face, while the planning and evaluation department of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency provides a comprehensive set of statistics and information on disabilities in Bolivia. Perhaps the group most vulnerable to both the causes and consequences of disability are Bolivia’s children. With 45% of disabilities originating in illness or accident in the first two years of a child’s life, improving facilities for prevention of disability at a young age is a priority in limiting the increase of disabilities among the Bolivian population. The fact that only half of Bolivia’s births take place in hospitals starkly illustrates the inadequacies of post-natal care in the country. The importance of disability prevention has been recognised by CONALPEDIS, who, funded by the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation, is running pilot projects in several Bolivian communities, including El Alto, to promote and help carry out early detection of disabilities in children, improving the likelihood of successful treatment. The limited inclusion of children with disabilities in the Bolivian education system is a major barrier to the integration of people with disabilities into society. Estimates place the exclusion of disabled children from mainstream education at between 74% and 97%. While there are often adequate special needs facilities in schools to accommodate those children with disabilities who do attend, such children demonstrably constitute a tiny percentage of disabled Bolivian children. Despite Decree 24807 of Law 1678 having stated that schools with disabled students must be physically accessible, with appropriate methods of communication, teaching materials and teacher training, compliance with these conditions is limited, with only 20% of schools demonstrating such facilities. There are several programs around the country designed to aid children with disabilities in integrating more successfully into mainstream education. The Bolivian Ministry of Education’s national bureau of special education has created a project whereby parents of disabled children are able to meet and learn how to better assist their children in dealing with their disabilities, as well as sharing experiences and advice. Another important question linked to education is developing awareness in Bolivian society of disability issues in the country. “Behavioural change is a challenge, and it starts at primary education. We must start to introduce diversity awareness to the children of Bolivia,” says Alexandra Soden, one of the founders of the organisation FUNDIS, a foundation aimed at helping Bolivia’s disabled. A direct result of poor integration of children with disabilities into the education system is similar problems in the employment market. An estimated 60-80% of Bolivians with disabilities are unemployed, compared to an unemployment rate of less than 10% overall. Such imbalance in employment rates for people with disabilities compared to others stems primarily from lack of training and discrimination. No major industries have policies in place either promoting employment of people with disabilities or prohibiting discrimination towards disabled people. While the Ministry of Labour and CONALPEDIS are developing a labour act for people with disabilities, which is currently under review by disability organisations and the government, there is little protection against discrimination in the workplace for people with disabilities. The proportion of disabled people employed in the administrative staff of La Paz’s municipal government numbers around 1%. Another social factor that is of crucial importance to the lives of people with disabilities in Bolivia is the health care they are able to receive. The greater need for comprehensive care and treatment inherent in many forms of disability combined with the greater likelihood of people with disabilities living in poverty and unemployment mean that only 4% of Bolivians with disabilities receive adequate care. In terms of governmental provision of health care for people with disabilities in Bolivia, Law Resolution 131214, implemented in 1975, makes provision for total medical care for people under the age of 19 who are certified by the disabilities committee of the National Health Unit. Having grown out of this category, people with disabilities often find it difficult and costly to obtain sufficient medical care. The only other allowance made by the government for those with disabilities is in the Social Security Code, which provides insurance for people who have gained a disability in the course of their employment. While the Ministry of Health is running a national disability awareness project to ascertain the severity of the need for medical insurance for disabled people, and efforts are underway to reopen the rehabilitation bureau of the same ministry, government concessions to the health care needs of Bolivians with disabilities are highly inadequate, with only 2% of government expenditure devoted to the welfare of the country’s disabled citizens. “The disabled in Bolivia share all those problems faced by all other minority groups – segregation, no rights, no voice,” says Soden, of the social barriers confronted by people with disabilities in Bolivia. “You never see a disabled person in the streets of Bolivia. This means they are shut away and often not allowed out of their homes because of their families’ shame or financial situation. Disability is still a taboo amongst many cultures that follow rites of superstition” On top of the many specific issues and barriers faced by people with disabilities in Bolivia, everyday life is made extremely difficult by the lack of accessibility and poor accommodation for the needs of those with disabilities evident throughout the country. According to Soden, “The main issue [faced by people with disabilities in Bolivia] is that of access, mobility, and other practical aspects.” Despite Law 1678’s regulatory decree stating that new buildings must be accessible to the disabled, and efforts to add ramps to supermarkets and major central areas in Bolivia’s principal cities, a mere 1% of La Paz’s buildings are manageable for those restricted by disability, while the city’s streets are a near-impossibility for wheelchairs. Equally as difficult to navigate for people with many physical disabilities are Bolivia’s transportation systems. With no wheelchair access to buses and no adapted options available, people with disabilities are limited in their travel. While the Ministry of Public Transportation is outlining a set of National Transportation Regulations to improve access for wheelchair users on inter-departmental transport, inner-city vehicles will remain hopelessly out of bounds for many people with disabilities. Despite indifference to disability issues throughout Bolivian society, and inadequate enforcement of legislation on the part of the government, there are many non-government organisations and charities working in Bolivia to improve the situation for the country’s disabled people. Most disability organisations in Bolivia find funding for their activities very difficult, with most financial capacity rooted in fund-raising and private contributions, often from the leaders of the organisations themselves. While the Bolivian government does provide funding to disability organisations, this is highly limited in both range and quantity. As well as the role played by CONALPEDIS, another substantial body of support for Bolivia’s disabled population is the Bolivian Confederation of Persons with Disabilities (COBOPDI), formed in 1989 by a variety of organisations representing many different forms of disability. COBOPDI holds national and departmental congresses every two years in order to coordinate the projects and actions of its member organisations. There are also many organisations dedicated to the care and support of Bolivian children with disabilities. As well as the aforementioned government-run program to aid the families of children with disabilities, the charity Consipe aims to provide similar support. The organisation runs workshops for parents, to enable them to better participate in the rehabilitation and integration of their children into society. Consipe also contributed to studies used in the development of Law 1678. There is also a broad range of homes and institutions for children with disabilities of different types. In La Paz, the Eric Boulter Special Education Institute, for children with hearing and mental disabilities, houses 27 children, while the Child Adaption Departmental Institute cares for 70 children with mental disabilities. The Child Rehabilitation Institute is responsible for the care of 25 children with physical disabilities. Children are, however, often institutionalised against their will, due to having been abandoned by their families, or their institutionalisation having been requested by relatives. Conditions in Bolivia’s children’s homes are rarely ideal, largely due to lack of funding for essential provisions. It is not only children with disabilities who live in institutions. There are around a dozen organisations in Bolivia housing close to 400 people with disabilities. These institutions provide psychological and physical counselling, rehabilitation and intensive care services and education and training facilities to their members. Sucre’s San Juan de Dios psycho-pedagogic centre is one example of this type of institution. Despite limited resources which prevent the organisation from fully achieving their aims, San Juan is the largest centre for people with disabilities in Sucre. Christian Ordoñez Severich, project director for the institution, feels a lot more work must be done to improve the lives of Bolivians with disabilities. He says, “Part of our work is to support the dissemination of information to strengthen the collective consciousness on disability issues.” Another comprehensive project being developed to support Bolivia’s disabled is La Paz-based FUNDIS. According to Soden, one of the group of professionals leading the project, their aim is, “To enable a community of different abilities to develop, grow, collaborate, self-inform and self-integrate physically and intellectually.” The FUNDIS project will have three distinct areas, and ‘will aim to reach the disabled throughout Bolivia’. The first objective is to provide legal assistance and support to Bolivians with disabilities. Secondly, they will run workshops in a variety of different topics and themes, including art, music and cooking, which will expand in capacity once sufficient funding and space can be obtained. There will also be an ‘Open House’, which Soden hopes will be, “A space where the disabled can meet, share and enjoy interaction, communication and creativity.” “The most important part of the project is to make space and opportunity for the disabled in Bolivia so that they can live life to the full. A rights based approach to legal counselling is also fundamental to the foundation,” she says Though much action has been and is being taken to support Bolivia’s disabled population, by both governmental and independent bodies, the effectiveness of such efforts is limited. On the government’s part, this is due to a long-term failure to enforce the legislation passed to improve the circumstances of Bolivia’s disabled, while non-governmental organisations aimed at benefiting people with disabilities suffer chronically from lack of funding and general support. These restrictions on bodies aiming to provide help to people with disabilities in Bolivia are compounded by the disinterest in the issue displayed by much of Bolivia’s general public and by its business community. While the government of Bolivia, as South America’s poorest country, has many social problems to manage, with 25% of the world’s disabled population living below the poverty line, Bolivia’s disabled citizens should not be ignored. Similarly, the role of disability in creating poverty, particularly serious when people with disabilities are not integrated into economic life, must be taken very seriously. “These issues are not a priority to a country stunted by political instability, but are essential to a country’s social development,” says Soden. Despite the myriad difficulties faced by disabled people in Bolivia and those organisations aiding them, Soden believes,“There is an advantage in that disability in Bolivia is still a ‘green’ area, in that we have a relatively blank sheet on which to start work and make some changes.”

Print 
 
 
 Last update April 2017 8902 views since January 2017  
 
|
|
|
|
 
Photographer Credits