The legal standing of disability rights in Mexico is contradictory. A Federal Act for Persons with Disabilities is currently under legislative consideration, and Mexico has been very active in United Nations attempts to create a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. However, much current legislation lacks regulations, and compliance is a problem. Moreover, awareness of disability rights is low among both people with and without disabilities.
In discussions of disabiliy, the preferred term in Mexico is "personas con discapacidad" (people with disabilities). The Persons with Disabilities Act of the State of Mexico uses the phrase, "personas con capacidades diferentes," which directly translated means, "people with different abilities." Mexico does not recognize mental or psychiatric disabilities, so other relevant terms include "deficiencia mental" and "desorden mental", translated as "mental deficiency" and "mental disorder," respectively. When quoting official documents within this report, original terminology has been retained.
Definition of Disability
Broadly speaking, the definitions of disability used in official and legislative documents refer to the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and the World Program of Action concerning Disabled Persons.1
Both the Program of Action for Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (PreveRDis) and the Program for the Labor Integration of Persons with Disabilities make reference to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF or ICIDH-2), which purports to change the traditional approach to disability by integrating medical and social models.2 However, the ICF is currently undergoing a thorough review prior to implementation, so it has not yet impacted definitions of disability in Mexican law. The following are representative of the definitions written into official documents:
Disability. "Restriction or lack, resulting from a physical or mental impairment, of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being." (12th General Population and Housing Census)3
Disability. "Lack, restriction or loss of the ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being." (Official Mexican Standard (NOM-173-SSA1-1998) for the Comprehensive Assistance of Persons with Disabilities.)4
Person with disabilities. "Any human being with a temporary or permanent restriction, loss or reduction of his/her physical, intellectual or sensory abilities to perform the activities that are inherent thereto." (Decree enacting the Federal Act for Persons with Disabilities)5
From a review of 13 official definitions, some patterns can be observed. Terms such as "suffers from" or "endures" recur frequently entailing the idea that people with disabilities are ill and restricted by life-long diseases. The word "normal" is used often, implying that any disability-related issue or activity is abnormal. This type of language can prevent disability from simply being considered a living condition.
The introduction of "People with Different Abilities" and "Different Abilities" in the Persons with Disabilities Act of the State of Mexico is worthy of special mention. The definition states that "People with Different Abilities are those persons suffering from a loss, impairment or reduction of an organ or physical, sensory or intellectual function, which restricts daily life activities and prevents their individual and social development." In this context, "Different Abilities" means "a restriction an individual has to perform on his or her own the activities that are necessary for his or her physical, mental, social, occupational and economic development resulting from a loss, impairment or reduction of an organ or physical, sensory or intellectual function."6 No explanation of this terminology change has been given. Some non-governmental organizations consider this change detrimental in its influence on media and government action.7
In conclusion, most definitions tend to closely follow internationally-established models. However, the current status of the ICF has meant that newer concepts of disability are not yet well known.
In Mexico, census data regarding disabilities can be traced back to 1900 when the issue was included for the first time. Collection of disability statistics continued until 1940, after which it was discontinued. The National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information Technology (INEGI), a decentralized organization of the federal government, was founded in January 1983. The INEGI is in charge of producing national statistical data and has been involved with the renewed collection of disability statistics in Mexico.8
In February of 1997, the first Workshop of Census Users was held in preparation for the 2000 census. At this workshop, non-governmental organizations and agencies of the Federal Public Administration proposed that the INEGI include the disability issue in the census questionnaire, as recommended by the United Nations. Once the proposal was approved, an INEGI document, "The Presence of the Disability Issue in Statistical Information: Theoretical and Methodological Framework," provided the basis for conducting research on the issue.9
The 12th General Housing and Population Census was conducted from 7-18 February 2000. Basic and extended versions of the questionnaire were used. The extended version was administered to a sample of 2.2 million households, while all others received the basic questionnaire.10 The basic version of the census found that a total population of 97,483,412 people in Mexico.11 Of these, approximately 1.8 million, or 1.84%, have some kind of permanent or long-term disability. However, the disability item had substantial nonresponse. Approximately
2.2 million people did not answer the disability question, suggesting that persons with disabilities may have been undercounted due to methodological issues.12
Tables One and Two present findings from the basic version of the census form.
Table 1: Distribution by disability status 13
Table 2: Distribution by type of disability14
||% of Disabilities
The sum of the different kinds of disabilities may be higher than the total number due to some individuals with multiple disabilities.
In contrast, the extended version of the questionnaire reported a slightly higher number of people with disabilities. It estimated the rate of people with disabilities at 2.31% of the country's total population. The distribution among types of disabilities was similar to that found by the basic questionnaire with the exception of hearing and mental disabilities. In basic form responses, hearing disabilities were reported slightly less often than mental disabilities, while on the extended form they were reported slightly more often than mental disabilities. The extended form also included a question about causes of disability. Table Three shows that illness is reported to be the largest cause of disability in Mexico.
Table 3: Distribution of cause of disability by gender15
Although the census figures are the official national disability statistics, other sources of data on the number of persons with disabilities in Mexico suggest much higher counts. The 2001-2006 National Health Program estimates that there are about 267,000 new cases of disability each year. Table four displays the number and estimated causes for new disabilities.
Table 4: Estimate of New Disability Cases Each Year16
|Consequences of Stroke
|Consequences of CranioEncephalic Trauma
|Cases of Child Cerebral Palsy
The PreveR-Dis has developed disability projections based upon population trends in Mexico. Because disability tends to progressively increase in developing countries, the projections indicate that by 2050 Mexico's total population will be approximately 145 million people with a disability population of 22 million (15.17%).17 Lastly, some information is available from the Mexican Social Security Institute's (IMSS) 2000 National Health Survey (ENSA 2000).18
The official Mexican disability statistics released by the Census of 2000 are now starting to be used as a reference for the design of programs aimed at the disability community. However, civil society and some public institutions still find them highly unreliable, and many refer to the WHO estimate of a 10% rate of people with disabilities. Under these circumstances, there is a risk of underestimating the dimension of the disability problem and of creating action plans and allocating resources based on the interpretation of highly uncertain figures. Currently, attempts are underway to determine question wording that will allow for more accurate identification of people with disabilities in the next population census.
Legislation & Disability Rights
Mexico became a Member State of the United Nations on 7 November 1945, and since that time it has, in general, voted in favor of treaties related to people with disabilities.19 The United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities were formally adopted by Mexico in 1995 with the creation of the National Program for the Welfare and Development of People with Disabilities (CONVIVE).20 Additionally, the Standard Rules have helped define the direction of disability policies and regulations in Mexico. For example, the state-level Persons with Disabilities Acts are based on these standards.
The Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities was ratified by Mexico on 6 December 2000, and the ratification document was deposited on 25 January 2001. The law ratifying the convention was officially published in Mexico on 12 March 2001. The Convention is currently in force.21 The Inter-American Convention contributed specific disability-related provisions to the Federal Act to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, which was recently implemented on 11 June 2003.22
Mexico has also signed ILO Convention 159 on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons. This convention was ratified by Mexico on 5 April 2001 and was officially published on 22 April 2002.23
At the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Mexico submitted a proposal aimed at developing a comprehensive and integral international convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The proposal was adopted through resolution 56/168.24
An Expert Group Meeting on the United Nations Convention for Persons with Disabilities was held in the Mexico City, from 11-14 June 2002.25 During the subsequent Ad Hoc Committee meeting, held in New York from 29 July to 9 August 2002, Mexico submitted a draft convention.26 As a result, the report of the first session of the Ad Hoc Committee recommended convening a second session of the Committee in June, 2003.27
With regard to national legislation, people with disabilities were not initially mentioned in the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States. In August 2001, Section 1 of the Constitution was amended to specifically include people with disabilities.27 It should be noted that the word "disability" does not appear as such in this section, but that the phrase "different abilities" is used instead.
Section 1, paragraph 3, provides that: "Any discrimination by reason of ethnic or national origin, gender, ages, different abilities, social status, health conditions, religion, opinion, preferences, marital status or any other reason, which may constitute a violation against human dignity and be intended to curtail or impair people's rights and freedoms is hereby forbidden."29
Recently, several state and federal laws have incorporated disability issues as have numerous codes, plans, agreements, programs, standards and guidelines. All are aimed at fostering respect for the rights of people with disabilities. As of this writing, however, Mexico does not yet have a specific federal law protecting people with disabilities. Such a law has been drafted and is currently awaiting the approval of the Senate. On 30 April 2003, the House of Representatives released an Opinion Approving the Draft Decree enacting the Federal Act for Persons with Disabilities.30 As of January 2004, this bill had not yet been signed into law, but it is expected to become an important national tool for the advancement and protection of the rights of people with disabilities.
Until the passage of the bill, the only existing statutes specifically aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities are those of the 31 states and the Federal District. Most statutes include provisions regarding monitoring, penalties for violations, and appeal procedures. The penalties provided by these statutes are typically monetary in nature. The effective application of such penalties is still deemed limited, as more than 80% of such statutes have not yet been regulated. Regulations are needed to attain significant benefits for people with disabilities.31
There are a number of other federal laws that contain some provisions pertaining to people with disabilities. Table five summarizes those statutes. Lastly, the Federal Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures contain punishments for crimes committed against people with disabilities who have been declared "legally incapable." Further information about state provisions and national guidelines is available on the IDRM web site.
Table 5: Mexico Federal Legislation32
| Federal Civil Code
| Federal Code on Electoral Institutions and Procedures
|| 149, 218
| Customs Act
| Airports Act
| Civil Aviation Act
| Sustainable Rural Development Act
|| 15, 154, 162
| Reading and Book Promotion Act
| National Commission on Human Rights Act
| Rights of Senior Citizens Act
| Public Works and Related Services Act
| Income Tax Act
| Institute of the National Housing Fund for Workers Act
| National Women Institute Act
| Social Security Act
| Career Professional Service of the Federal Public
| Administration Act
| Federal Rights Act
|| 186, 198, 198-A, 238-B, 238-C, 288
| Federal Consumer Protection Act
|| 7, 58
| Federal Tourism Act
|| 2, 9, 11, 16, 19, 28, 30, 32
| Federal Labor Act
| Federal Act to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination
|| 4, 5, 11, 13
| General Human Settlement Act
|| 3, 33, 51
| General Physical Culture and Sports Act
|| 2, 29, 47, 80, 90
| General Education Act
| General Health Act
| Federal Public Administration Organic Act
| General Congress of the United Mexican States
|| 3, Temporary
| Organic Act
| Girl, Boy and Adolescent Rights Protection Act
|| 3, 16, 28, 29, 30, 31
| Railway Service Regulatory Act
| National Social Welfare System Act
|| 4, 12, 15, 17, 44, 45, 46
| Federation Expenditure Budget for Fiscal Year 2003
|| 55, 16o Temporary
There is no organization that specifically protects the human or civil rights of people with disabilities in Mexico. The National Commission on Human Rights and the State Commissions on Human Rights, which are in charge of protecting human and civil rights, assist both people with and without disabilities. Their main duty is to receive, hear, and investigate all complaints regarding alleged human rights violations by public servants. With respect to cases of discrimination against people with disabilities, the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, established on 17 September 2003 by mandate of the Federal Act to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, will be in charge of receiving and recording discrimination complaints. This activity is scheduled to begin in January 2004.33
Over the past 10 years, policy-making bodies have shown great interest in the social integration of persons with disabilities. As a result, an increasing number of laws include disability provisions. However, people with disabilities and the organizations serving them, had no say in the process of designing or reforming such laws. Thus, the multiple special needs or characteristics of each type of disability were not taken into account, and the social impact of these laws has been lessened. Although there are many legal protections for people with disabilities, noncompliance remains an issue. In general, then, "the national legal framework does not restrict, but rather emphasizes both the equality of people with disabilities in the labor context and non-discrimination in all aspects of social life. However, in practice there is no disability culture making society feel that this social group is part of it and that it should be accepted with all its characteristics."34 Civil society organizations have had an increasingly active and vital role in the formulation of social development policies, which may improve this situation in the future.
People with disabilities have the right to vote and to be elected to public office with no restrictions.35 However, pursuant to the provisions of Sections 450 and 2585 of the Federal Civil Code, a person with disabilities who is considered "naturally or legally incapable" is not allowed to hold public office or act as an attorney in court proceedings.36
Significant progress was made in the 2003 elections with respect to accessibility. Changes include ballot boxes of an appropriate height and some Braille materials, but the lack of accessible polling places remains a major obstacle. Leaders of disability organizations estimate that only 20% of polling stations were physically accessible facilities. The Federal Electoral Institute has committed to encouraging and gradually facilitating the vote of people with disabilities. among the initiatives announced are training strategies for election officials that consider disability issues and accessible information on electoral processes for citizens with disabilities.37
In general, few communication resources are available for persons with disabilities. The government does not typically use alternative formats such as Braille to provide information on its activities, with the exception of those few items specifically aimed at people with visual disabilities.38 The Braille version of the Political Constitution of the Mexican United States is made available through a civil organization rather than through the government. The International Committee for the Blind (private assistance institution) offers various publications in Braille including an outdated version of the Political Constitution from 1998. These publications are not free of charge.
The Mexican National Library, run by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, has a Special Typhlology Room that provides the following services to persons who are visually impaired:
Special document scanning ? Automated reading and recording ? Editing of printed material (Screen Reader, Open Book and Jaws software) ? Character enlargement ? Braille to text characters conversion and vice versa ? Training workshops on how to use PCs Given the type of collection that the library has, the materials do not require constant updating. Instead, they are updated gradually based on user's requirements. These services are primarily educational in nature, and some require the user to pay a fee or provide their own materials. In addition, the delivery time can be very long. Individuals or private institutions requiring Braille to text conversion for personal use must hire such service on their own or seek assistance from specialized non-government organizations.
Closed captioning is not standard practice in Mexico television programming, and no closed captioning is used in nationwide television news broadcasts. Simultaneous sign language interpreting for people with hearing disabilities is, however, used for special television programs or events. Only Noticiero with Lolita Ayala, a Noticieros Televisa news broadcast aired Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., includes a news summary translated into sign language for viewers with hearing impairments.
The most recent accessible communication initiative is the 1998 Federal Radio and Television Broadcasting Act reform, which as of October 2003 had not been approved by the necessary Congressional Committee.39
The Attorney General's Office does not provide any way for people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with the relevant authorities in the event of a natural disaster, civil emergency, or criminal assault. If an individual with such disabilities wishes to file a complaint with the agencies reporting to the Attorney General's Office, officials may request the expert assistance of a sign language interpreter. Interpreters are not provided on a regular basis but as a special service.40
The 12th Census reports that among children with disabilities, there are 44,629 under the age of 4; 191,340 aged 5 to 14; and 91,396 aged 15 to 19.41
Table Six shows several estimates of the number of students with disabilities who are participating in special education programs and the percentage receiving education in regular versus special schools.
Table 6: Students with disabilities by Type of Educational Setting
|| Inclusive Education
| Special Education (CAM)
|| Total Population of Students with
| National Special Education and Educational Integration Strengthening Program.42
|| Start of 2001-2002 school year
| Basic Statistics of the National Educational System.43
|| Start of 2001-2002 school year
| Mexican Educational System. 2002- 2003 School Year.44
|| Start of 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 school years.45
| Preliminary Results of the Fact Sheet on Special Education for Students with Disabilities 46
|| Start of 2002-2003 school year. Note that this document contains preliminary figures.
According to the largest estimate, children with disabilities accounted for only about 0.52% of the 20,517,261 children enrolled in the national education system during 2002. The majority of children with disabilities who participate in educational service programs are those with mental disabilities (approximately 70%), followed by hearing disabilities (13%), mobility disabilities (12%), and visual disabilities (4.5%).47
Special Education is available for students with disabilities in major cities and in many large and small towns, but coverage is not nationwide.48 Students with disabilities attending regular schools usually require the support of Regular Education Support Service Units (USAER). However, these are limited in number and distribution. The main goal of special education programs is to integrate children with disabilities into regular classrooms.
The educational integration process has gained some momentum through Section 41 of the General Education Act which reads:
Special education is designed for individuals with either temporary or permanent disabilities as well as for individuals with exceptional abilities. It shall cater to students in a manner suitable to their own capabilities thereby ensuring social equity. Since it deals with children with disabilities, special education shall promote their integration into mainstream basic education structures by applying specific methods, techniques and materials. For those individuals who do not become successfully integrated, special education shall aim at meeting their basic learning needs so that they can have an autonomous social and productive life, and to this end, it shall develop the necessary programs and teaching aids. Special education encompasses guidance to parents or guardians as well as to teachers and staff of elementary and high schools integrating students with special education needs.49
The creation of this act along with the signing of the National Basic Education Modernization Agreement and the amendment of section 3 of the Constitution has resulted in a process of "reorienting and reorganizing special education services, focusing primarily on changing the prevailing conception of the role of special education services, promoting the integration of children with disabilities into regular schools and restructuring the existing services."50
There is no national policy requiring public or private schools to be accessible to people with disabilities.51 Approval is being sought to officially extend a Mexican Official Standard regarding accessibility to include schools. Schools are not specifically mentioned in the current document. However, the standard refers to all buildings providing a public service, and as such, schools are implicitly included.52 The education system also often lacks accessible communication for students with sensory disabilities. Government efforts to provide free Braille textbooks for primary education encountered a number of distribution problems. The headquarters of the Secretary of Public Education are located in the Federal District and are wheelchair-accessible. The Secretariat participates in the National Program on Public Buildings Accessibility; therefore, its five administrative facilities in Mexico City are scheduled to be made accessible by 2006.53
Teachers are trained in Teacher Training Schools under the authority of the Secretary of Public Education (SEP). Schools offer undergraduate degrees in Preschool Education, Elementary Education, High School Education, Physical Education, Artistic Education, and Special Education.54 In view of the need of all teaching staff to be trained on how to meet the needs of a diversified student population, the SEP has added "Special Education Needs" to the curricula of undergraduate programs in Preschool Education, Elementary Education, and Physical Education.55 Training in educational integration in elementary schools was also incorporated into the curricula of regular teacher training for the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years. The course was conducted in 25 out of 31 Mexican states. Three national courses on educational integration aimed at teachers working in regular preschool, elementary and high schools were scheduled to take place during the 2003-2004 school year.56
Of the 52 schools around the country providing special education training, most only offer an undergraduate degree in Learning Problems. Other undergraduate specialty programs include Mental Deficiencies, Blindness and Visual Impairments, Hearing and Speech, Neuromotor Disorders, Learning Problems, Social Misconduct and Maladjustment. The Specialization Teacher Training School of the Federal District offers undergraduate degrees in all specialties and also runs two postgraduate programs and a Master's degree program.57
The postgraduate programs include behavioral problems in basic education, speech problems, prevention and assistance in the classroom, and the master's degree in special education. Table Seven shows the number of schools providing specialized training in the various fields that make up special education in Mexico.
Table 7: Teacher Training Schools by Training Area in Mexico58
|| Number of teacher training schools
| Learning Problems
| Hearing and Speech
| Mental Deficiencies
| Neuromotor Disorders
| Blindness and Visual Impairments
| Social Misconduct and Maladjustment
| Undergraduate degree in Special Education
Source: Information provided by PTFAEN officials and confirmed by telephone.
The curriculum of the 2004-2005 Undergraduate Special Education Program will accommodate the need to train teachers in the assistance of children with disabilities rather than with learning problems only.59
Family integration into the education of people with severe, profound or multiple disabilities is a complex problem. The public school system does not offer counseling to parents or programming designed to include families in the education of people with disabilities. The minimal level of assistance provided to children with multiple or severe disabilities has been an obstacle to the creation of such programs. There is not enough accurate information on the type of assistance provided to these children at Multiple Assistance Centers (CAM).60 Some NGO's offer guidance to parents, but there are no formal programs. According to one advocate, "the absence of this kind of support is considered to be one of the main causes of family disintegration in Mexico, [yet] there is no research."61
The National Special Education and Educational Integration Strengthening Program and the National Advisory Council for the Social Integration of People with Disabilities Subcommittee on Education Integration are considering proposals to address this issue. A working group is being created to promote family integration and education. Because NGOs are the source of most efforts to involve parents of children with disabilities in the educational process, they will play an important role in the working group.62
The Secretary of Public Education does not have a disability detection program in place. However, the National System for the Comprehensive Development of the Family (National DIF) —the social welfare institution with the largest infrastructure in the country— runs an early detection program in all its rehabilitation centers and basic care units.63 In line with the goals of the Federal Government's 2001-2006 National Development Plan, early detection should also be available through PreveR-Dis.64 Both programs will cover the four major groups of disabilities: neuromotor, visual, hearing and intellectual. Mental or psychiatric "disorders" are not included because they are not yet considered disabilities in Mexico.65 Upon early detection of a disability, the National DIF program refers people to a rehabilitation center, while PreveR-Dis refers people to other second or third-level care institutions. If the type of disability does not fall into any of the existing categories, preventive measures such as early stimulation programs are adopted.66
People with intellectual disabilities who are over the age of 20 have almost no social integration or development opportunities since very few institutions provide such services. According to a representative of one disability organization, "the public educational system provides educational services to people with disabilities until they reach the age of 20 through the Occupational Multiple Assistance Centers (CAM). Then, it is up to the parents to provide their children with some kind of educational, occupational or housing support by their own means. However, parents usually do not know what to do with their children and in most cases, young people and adults who once attended school or took part in a rehabilitation program stay at home."67
With regard to higher education, the La Salle University of Mexico offers various disability-related courses through the Social and Community Development Coordination Office. There are courses available on Braille system, the Mexican Sign Language, and a Workshop on Disability given by the PROACCESO Program. The PROACCESO Program was begun in coordination with Libre Acceso in July 2001 with the goal of removing social, cultural, and physical barriers within educational institutions. Likewise, the Morelia La Salle University offers a diploma on "Alternative Communication: Sign Language and the Braille System." Approximately 100 students enroll in the courses annually.68
Significant efforts have been made in the field of special education and educational integration in Mexico. However, children with disabilities have long been subject to abandonment and neglect. Children with disabilities continue to be deprived of education, whether special or regular, even though the necessary physical and service infrastructure is already partially in place.
The economically inactive rate in Mexico is very high. The National Urban Employment Survey (ENEU) conducted by the INEGI found an overall unemployment rate of 3.25% for 2003.69 However, the survey also reports that only 55.58% of the total population is economically active.70 The ENEU does not provide any information about people with disabilities. According to the 2000 census, only 25% of the total population with disabilities is economically active. The remaining 75% are economically inactive.71 Not only is there a substantial difference between the likelihood of people with and without disabilities to be economically inactive, there is also a difference between the inactive status of the two groups. Economically inactive people without disabilities are more likely to be students, retired or doing housework (92.37%) than economically inactive people with disabilities (51.45%).72 The 1996 National Household Income and Expenses Survey found similar results.73 Table eight shows the status of those people with disabilities within each of the activity categories.
Table 8: Activity by employment status
| Economically Inactive
|| Staying home
|| Practicing sports
|| Would like to work
| Economically Active
|| Looking for work
Those people with disabilities who are employed often earn relatively little. Almost 14% earn no money, and 22.6% earn less than one minimum wage.74 Among
the most common occupations for people with disabilities are: farmers (23.4%), craftsmen and manual workers (17.1%), and merchants and self-employed (13%).75
Given the large number of people with disabilities who are not working, the government passed antidiscrimination employment legislation. The Federal Act to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination says that people with disabilities should not be discriminated against by reason of their disabilities when applying for a job.76 Also, the right of every person to work is recognized as an individual guarantee in the Political Constitution and the Federal Lab