What is it Like to Live in Spain if you Have a Physical Disability?

Moving to Spain is a huge and life changing decision. You need to consider where you will live, what you will do for work, and even how you will meet new people and integrate into the Spanish culture. But if you are an individual with mobility issues or a physical disability then there will be other factors for you to consider that may not occur to able-bodied ex pats. These include how wheelchair accessible facilities are and even whether the climate will impact your condition.

So what is it like to live in Spain if you have a physical disability? Here’s everything you need to know:

Is Disability Common in Spain?

Like most countries, a significant percentage of the Spanish population has some kind of disability. According to survey data from Spain’s national statistics body (INE), the number of Spaniards with a disability exceeds four million people, which is equal to 9.5 percent of the country's total population.

75.4 percent of the group with a disability or limitation were aged 55 or older and the most common limitation among people with disabilities were mobility issues.

What is It Like to be Disabled in Spain?

Spain is considered to be a world leader in providing support for its disabled communities, but that doesn’t mean like in Spain is perfect for disabled individuals. But it is important to note that Spain does adhere to the  International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was signed and ratified into the Spanish legal system in May 2008 and has been gradually adapting its legal system and public infrastructure ever since. Since 2008 Spain has made significant progress in protecting the rights of disabled people in the country, and have added additional laws into their legal system that build on this convention.

This means that Spanish legislation designed to protect disabled people in the country is quite advanced and that Spain is at the forefront in terms of both accessibility and ensuring legal rights for people with disabilities.

What Legal Protections Do Disabled People Have in Spain?

As mentioned above, disabled people in Spain are afforded many protections under the Spanish legal system. The two more relevant and significant legal protections are 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. These are both important regulations that ensure disabled people in Spain have complete autonomy and are free to make decisions for themselves.

Disabled people in Spain are now free to decide how they live, who they live with, and what their life plan will be without interference from the state. However it’s important to note that life in Spain isn’t perfect for disabled people and whilst their legal rights are protected by law, accessibility in Spain for those with physical disabilities can still be very difficult. This is because whilst the legal theory is in place, the practical implementation of this is still in the early stages in the country.

What Physical Barriers Exist For Disabled People in Spain?

One of the biggest problems faced by disabled people in Spain is the physical barriers that prevent them from living their day-to-day lives. One third of those surveyed by the INE said that they have had problems getting around their own homes or buildings. Many doorways, stairs and the entrance or exit to garages act as physical barriers for disabled people. Accessing some public buildings and using public transport in Spain can also be difficult for those with physical disabilities.

There are also social barriers to life in Spain for disabled individuals, and many report that they struggle with access to employment. The same 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 of those individuals were employed. However there are schemes in place in a bid to combat this. Special Employment Centres (CEE) are regulated companies in Spain that employ individual with disabilities. The staff in these centres ismade 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. These are a good option for disabled people in Spain seeking empoyment.

In the same study  12.9 percent of people with disabilities reported feeling discriminated against at some point clearly demonstrating that life in Spain is not perfect for disabled people.

How Does The Weather Impact Disabled People In Spain?

Spain has a hot dry climate and during the summer months the country is hit by very intense heatwaves that have increased in frequency in recent years. These heatwaves can have a negative impact on the lives of disabled people in the country.

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."

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