Moving to Spain For Members

What's life in Spain like for people with physical disabilities?

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What's life in Spain like for people with physical disabilities?
Elderly men on mobility scooters at Levante Beach in Benidorm. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)

Moving to Spain isn't a straightforward decision for any foreigner, and when it comes to people with mobility difficulties the factors to consider - from wheelchair access to the climate, legislation and job options - are even more crucial.


Survey data from Spain’s national statistics body (INE) has revealed that the number of Spaniards with a disability exceeds four million people, 9.5 percent of the country's total population.

By age, 75.4 percent of the group with a disability or limitation were aged 55 or older.

The most common limitation among people with disabilities were mobility issues, which in 2020 affected 68.5 percent of women surveyed compared to 38.9 percent of men. This was followed by difficulties carrying out domestic tasks, another physical limitation where the prevalence rate in women is almost double that of men.


What is life like for the disabled in Spain?

In some senses Spain is a world leader in caring for the disabled in its communities. But it is far from perfect, and there is still room for improvement.

December 13th, 2006 was a key date for disabled people around the world because the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was first adopted. Spain signed and ratified it in May 2008 and has been gradually adapting its legal system and public infrastructure ever since.

Speaking to Spanish news outlet 20minutos, human rights delegate Gregorio Saravia said that progress made in Spain since 2008 has been significant due to adding its own laws that build on the convention.

Spain's legislation with regards to the disabled is quite advanced, and puts it at the forefront of countries across the world not only in terms of accessibility but ensuring legal rights for people with disabilities.

Spanish legal protections

Of the Spanish legislation Saravia highlights two: the Royal Legislative Decree 1/2013, which reinforced the social rights and inclusion of disabled people, and in particular Law 8/2021, which established the right of the disabled to fully exercise their legal rights.

The 2021 law in particular, Saravia says, is a great step forward and has placed Spain as a leading country in this area: "it is extremely important because it put an end to a very unfair situation in which some disabled people could not make decisions for themselves."

The legislation, he says, allows the disabled "decide what our life plan is going to be, with whom and how we want to live... this has been achieved after years of struggle by the disability social movement and puts an end to the substitution of the person's will. The right to make decisions is recognised, something that was already recognised for the rest of the people, and they can exercise it on equal terms."

However, as encouraging and progressive as the legal recognition is, it does not mean that Spanish society can't improve on physical accessibility for disabled people. While legal theory is one thing, it seems Spain still has a way to go in terms of implementing it practically on the ground.

READ ALSO: How Spain plans to speed up and change the way it determines disability


Physical barriers

A third of those surveyed by the INE said that they have had problems getting around their own homes or buildings. The main physical barriers reported were doorways, stairs and the entrance or exit to garages. Disabled people in Spain also reported difficulties accessing public buildings (36.2 percent of those surveyed) and using public transport (40.3 percent).

In addition to physical barriers, people with disabilities in Spain also face social barriers, a big one being employment. The INE data shows that in 2020 there were 1.58 million people with disabilities of working age, that is, between 16 and 64 years old, but only 23.6 percent were employed.

The study also showed that 12.9 percent of people with disabilities have felt discriminated against at some point. Among school children, this percentage reaches 24.6 percent in children between six and 15 years of age.

READ ALSO: Can I move into a Spanish care home as a foreigner?

A man with crutches (R) waits to cross a street as a group of tourists using Segway PT visit El Gotic neighbourhood, in Barcelona. Some parts of Spanish cities are not well suited for people with mobility difficulties. (Photo by PAU BARRENA / AFP)



As The Local has reported extensively this summer, Spain's heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense. They also disproportionately affect the disabled in Spain, leaving many of them to fend for themselves without help.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a recent report that disabled people risk death and physical, social and mental impairment due to extreme heat, especially if "left alone to cope with dangerous temperatures."

Employment centres

As the INE data shows, disabled people in Spain are also more likely to be out of work. But that doesn't mean that nothing is being done to try and remedy the problem, however.

Special Employment Centres (CEE) are regulated companies whose staff is made up of at least 70 percent of people with disabilities and work for the inclusion of people with disabilities in other companies. There are over 2000 CEEs across Spain, which employ approximately 100,000 people, according to data from the National Confederation of Special Employment Centres (Conacee).



Still somewhat of a taboo subject in terms of the disabled community, in recent years in Spain there has been debate about the sex lives and sexual rights of disabled people. This was sparked mainly by statements made by Telmo Irureta, a Spanish actor with cerebral palsy, when he received the award for best new actor at the Goya Awards.

'Sexual assistance', as it is known, is not regulated in Spain as it is in some other European countries such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark

Regulating a 'sexual assistant' is the main demand of the groups of people with disabilities in favour giving the disabled increased sexual rights. However, it has seen backlash among some feminists groups who argue having sexual assistants to aid the disabled would essentially be a form of prostitution.

The issue is not "on the agenda" of government at present, according to Jesús Martín Blanco, Director General for the Rights of People with Disabilities, because it needs "very deep reflection."



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