Profile and historical context
According to 2018 data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC), 10.2 per cent of the population in Argentina has a disability. At present, however, Argentina does not have any data on the specific proportion of minorities and indigenous peoples registered as disabled. The prevalence of registered disabilities varies significantly between different regions: in the region of Cuyo in northern Argentina, composed of three provinces (San Juan, San Luis and Mendoza) and inhabited among others by Mapuche, Diaguita, Huarpe and Ranquel indigenous communities, the proportion of households with at least one member having a disability is 28.7 per cent, compared to 22.1 per cent in Patagonia, where the incidence is lowest.
With the passage of Law 22.431, sanctioned and enacted on 16 March 1981, a series of benefits for people with disabilities were put in place such as job and professional training, loans, subsidies, support with school and education and state benefits. In addition, article 20 established public transport free of charge from a person’s home to educational or rehabilitation facilities. It also highlights the need for physical barriers such as pedestrian crossings, stairs and ramps in parks, parking lots and other public spaces to be modified to improve physical accessibility. This was followed in 1997 by Law 24.901, establishing a system of basic welfare and care for persons with disabilities, including diagnosis and medical care. Finally, in 2001 Law 25.504 was passed, allowing the Ministry of Health to award certificates of disability.
The lack of specific disaggregated data on persons with disabilities from minorities or indigenous peoples in Argentina continues to pose a key obstacle to effective addressing the specific challenges they face as a result of intersectional discrimination. As a result, many of the inequalities they experience remain invisible.
However, indigenous disability activists have confirmed the specific difficulties they face. This include Pablo Vera, a visually impaired member of the Wichi people who was appointed Director of Indigenous with Disability Affairs in 2019. Vera has testified to the variety of disparities indigenous persons with disabilities face in areas such as health care and the right to education, reinforced by the gap between rural and urban areas. In particular, access to health services is difficult due to the centralization of most services in Buenos Aires, the lack of bilingual staff and broader discrimination. The right to education, on the other hand, is undermined by schools not having the appropriate facilities or bilingual teachers.
An obstacle in Argentina has always been the centralization of all its services in the province of Buenos Aires, especially the capital itself. For indigenous persons with disabilities who do not live in Buenos Aires or other cities, this can make access to specialist hospitals extremely challenging. Travelling from the north or south of Argentina to the capital for medical treatment can be both expensive and time consuming: the journey can take up to eight hours, and many families do not possess the necessary economic resources to undertake it. Indigenous people generally and indigenous persons with disabilities more specifically who attend primary care or local general practitioners, rather than travelling to Buenos Aires, frequently face discrimination and language barriers. Indigenous community members have reported discrimination from health workers and stated that many community members avoid health services as a result.
There is also a correlation between certain health conditions that cause disabilities and chronic impairments with poverty, particularly in rural areas in Argentina inhabited by indigenous peoples. For instance, the Chaco region, home to Wichi and Qom communities, is also the area with the highest prevalence of Mal de Chagas, or chagas disease, in the country. Due to the isolation and poor living conditions of its inhabitants, chagas disease affects a large part of the population, most of whom are indigenous. Chagas disease has a chronic symptomatic phase that can appear years after the initial infection. It can affect the nervous and digestive systems, and the heart. It can also result in neurological disorders such as dementia, cardiomyopathy and weight loss. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal due to the heart condition. During this chronic phase, chagas disease can impair the ability to work or perform everyday activities. In addition, the provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Formosa, home to the Diaguita, Kolla and Wichi and Qom, presented rates of tuberculosis of 47.8, 47 and 39.2 per 100,000 inhabitants –more than double the national average.
Another pressing issue relates to the right to education. Most indigenous children have difficulties accessing schools. In the case of indigenous children with disabilities, discrimination and the lack of appropriate equipment in schools is also a common barrier. Disabilities further exacerbate the discrimination that indigenous students frequently experience, reflected in lower attainment levels. A report launched by the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in 2019 found that illiteracy rates among indigenous peoples were twice the national average, with higher rates for indigenous women (4.2 per cent) than indigenous men (3.2 per cent). A 2006 education law acknowledged the need to train teachers to overcome the language barrier that indigenous children face at schools, running the National Program of Bilingual Education between 2004 and 2007. Nevertheless, it has become difficult to prepare rural schools to adapt to these changes and the other challenges that indigenous children with disabilities may need.
Another challenge is documentation: only a third of (33.4 per cent) of persons with disabilities in Argentina have a valid certificate of disability. This helps secure access to medical treatments and prosthetics, educational support, free travel on public transport, access to a disability living allowance, exemption from municipal taxes and incentives to buy automobiles. In 2018, Alejandra Frey, who was Director of Policies and Services at the National Agency for Disabilities, stated that one possible reason that so many did not have the certificate was geographic barriers: persons with disabilities living in non-urban areas faced more difficulties in commuting to the cities to apply and be assessed to obtain the necessary documentation. Lack of information about the potential benefits of possessing a certificate may also play a role. For indigenous persons with disabilities, many of whom are already living in rural areas far removed from major towns or cities, language could pose an added barrier if staff are unable to assist indigenous applicants in their mother tongue.
This is particularly true in a context when persons with disabilities from all communities are facing increasing challenges accessing welfare support. For instance, Argentina has a non-contributory pension scheme for people with disabilities in a difficult financial situation to support those who do not receive any other benefits from the state. In June 2017, however, Mauricio Macri´s administration cut 160,000 non-contributory pensions to disabled people. The Ministry of Health and Social Care stated that most of these pensions were not needed by the services users, provoking demonstrations and street protests that forced the government to suspend the measure.
The organization Red por los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad has raised awareness and is currently campaigning to modify the second article of Law 26.130, which states that people of legal age and capacity need to give their consent to sterilization. However, if the person has a disability, the sterilization can be requested by their legal representative and must be authorized by a court, without requiring the person’s consent. This may expose women with disabilities to involuntary sterilizations is against the rights recognized by Argentina when it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Updated December 2020
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