- September 29, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names may have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.


Angelica is a woman living in a rural area of the department of Santander (central northern part of Colombia), she is a refugee who emigrated from Venezuela looking for a better life. “I don’t have documents and my papers are not in order”, she says. She is a 25 year old woman with a physical disability and is a wheelchair user, just like her three sisters.

At the moment, in Santander, residents are only allowed to leave the house once per week. Depending on your ID number, it will be one day or the other. “Sanctions are very severe if you are caught outdoors without a justification”, she says. Up until the 29th of September, there are 4.481 active cases in the region.

Lack of access to medical assistance

“The situation is very chaotic, especially now during COVID-19. If you do not have enough money to pay health insurance, it’s like you do not exist”, says Angelica. She explains that people are only accepted in hospitals if it’s a life-or-death situation. “I have not been able to continue taking my medication because I can’t find a doctor that will take appointments and will provide a prescription. They are all focused on COVID-19 and I don’t have health insurance. We can’t pay it as my husband lost his job”. Angelica says that many people have decided to turn to self-medication and home remedies, a very dangerous practice. “My sister, who has a health insurance, had a rash on her legs. She was told that a doctor would go to her house in the next 24h and they never turned up”. 

If Angelica were to use national health services, she would have to take a taxi to go to the hospital, which is far away from her home and very expensive. “I can’t use public transport because it’s not accessible, its far away from home and there are rarely any in rural area”, she says.

Camila is a 57 year old woman living in an urban area in the municipality of Medellin (second-largest city in Colombia, after Bogotá) where there are 1.486 active cases (up until the 26th of September). She is an electric wheelchair user and currently looks after her mother and step-father. She has a similar experience to Angelica. “I have experienced a lot of stress when trying to access medical assistance. I call the hospitals but no one picks up or there are no appointments available. Medicines aren’t delivered to our house. My step dad, my mother and myself all need medicines, including anti-depressants for myself. The fact that I have not been taking my medicines have had a negative effect on my mental health and episodes of extreme sadness”. Camila explains that medicines can be ordered online or via the phone but they have to be picked up at the pharmacy. “We are scared to go and catch the virus that will infect us all”, she says.

Just like for Angelica, public transport is not an option in her region. “Buses don’t stop if they see you are in a wheelchair because they say you waste too much time. This used to happen even before COVID-19 and there’s nothing we can do. There is only one accessible bus but its far away from my house and the way to get there is not accessible.  The metro is accessible to reach but the wagons aren’t. There is a big gap and entering with an electric wheelchair is not an easy task. I depend on others for help and these days, no one wants to get close”.

Issues securing an income

Angelica explains she has been unable to secure an income and is struggling financially. “We can’t pay rent as my husband has lost his job but luckily, my landlady hasn’t kicked us out yet. We now depend financially on my family. We don’t receive any support from the government, we feel abandoned”, she says. “Our diet is very basic and we eat whatever we can find. I can’t eat certain foods such as rice and flour as I have issues with my digestive system but now I don’t have an option”.

Camila also explains that she has become economically dependent on others. “My life changed drastically since COVID-19 as before I could generate an income by selling handmade crafts in the streets. Now I depend on my family to survive as I can’t work and don’t receive any help from the government”, she says. “I look after my mother and my step father, who has Alzheimer. The three of us live off my mother’s retirement pension. It’s really not a lot”.

The both experience frustration as they have an increased feeling of being a burden to their families. Camila says that she has tried to obtain a disability allowance on multiple occasions but it has been very difficult. “There are no disability programs nor a database that includes how many persons with disabilities there are and where we are located”, says Camila. Angelica adds that “my sister needs a personal assistance but as she doesn’t have enough money, her children have to help her. It is very difficult to receive a disability allowance, even when you have all the documents”. They both say that most persons with disabilities do not receive personal assistance as many social workers are scared to going to people’s homes.

Increased domestic abuse

Angelica explains that domestic abuse has increased at home, making her feel scared and lonely. “My relationship with my husband is not good, I have experienced increased verbal abuse from him. He has hit the walls and doors, this never happened before”, she says.

Camila highlights that fact that “women with disabilities have been left behind, no one talks about increased violence and our rights”.

Increased discrimination against persons with disabilities

“Information is very general, there are no specific instructions for persons with disabilities. As internet connection is unstable and expensive, it’s even hard to have access to the most basic information. I don’t think there is any coordination or programs targeted at us”, says Angelica. Another issue is raised: “my sisters are ashamed of saying they have a disability or calling themselves disabled, therefore, they do not receive any government support. There is still a lot of stigma and prejudice, meaning they are invisible”.

“COVID-19 has been hard on everybody but specially for persons with disabilities without government support. People have been forced to go out on the streets to work, risking their own lives. It’s not due to a lack of awareness but the need to survive”, says Camila. “We feel abandoned. Our individual needs are not taken into consideration”. 

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