Report on the rights of older persons with disabilities
Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
General Assembly at its 74th session, 21 October 2019
At the intersection between ableism and ageism.
The world’s population is ageing. By 2050, people over the age of 60 are expected to account for 21 per cent of the global population. About half of them will have a disability, making this the largest community of persons with disabilities, and one of the most stigmatized and neglected. While many may not self-identify as persons with disabilities despite experiencing significant difficulties in functioning and participating, the increasing number of older persons poses a significant challenge to States to ensure the full exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others.
Around the world, older persons with disabilities face discriminatory laws, denial of legal capacity and institutionalization. These are human rights violations at a massive scale, which are however regarded as normal social practices due to deeply-rooted stigma and social misperceptions. Their normalization fuels a circle of discrimination and exclusion in which hundreds of millions of people in a vulnerable situation are entrapped.
Being old and with a disability often results in discrimination and specific human rights violations. This is due to the combined effect of ageism and ableism: two common forms of social bias that see older persons and persons with disabilities as naturally deserving less rights and agency. At the intersection of these and multiple other forms of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and other factors, older persons with disabilities are among the most marginalized in the world. They are often denied their autonomy, and their role in the community is dismissed as irrelevant and burdensome.
Among this large group, women are considerably poorer and more likely to be institutionalized or “incapacitated” owing to their higher life expectancy compared to men. They are extremely vulnerable to social isolation, exclusion and abuse.
This report examines the situation of older persons with disabilities, and provides guidance to States on how to promote, protect and ensure their human rights and fundamental freedoms, paying particular attention to the intersection between ageing and disability. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides the tools to understand the many forms of discrimination experienced by older persons with disabilities, and ensure they enjoy all their rights.
The Special Rapporteur makes a series of recommendations to States, including to ensure that laws prohibit discrimination based on age or disability, establish rights-based community support, improve the accessibility of the physical environment, guarantee access to justice, and promote participation in decision-making.
To succeed, States’ action must contribute to changing common fears and perceptions about ageing. Society needs a full paradigm shift in the way it perceives and interacts with its older members. While impairment may be a natural aspect of ageing that needs to be embraced as part of human diversity, discrimination and social exclusion are not.
On the 25-26 October 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas, jointly with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, hosted the first Expert group meeting on supporting the autonomy and independency of older persons with disabilities in New York, with the support of the Government of Finland. There were 25 experts from UN entities, organizations of persons with disabilities, organizations of older persons, civil society, States and academia, with a variety of expertise, perspectives, and regional representation.
The expert meeting aimed to discuss the intersectionality between disability and ageing in the exercise of autonomy and independency, and to explore the potential of international and regional human rights instruments, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to ensure their access to accessible, appropriate and affordable community-based support services.
The discussions found that older persons with disabilities face exclusion, multiple and intersectional discrimination that lead to human rights violations, such as the deprivation of legal capacity and institutionalization. In this context, the CRPD was found to have the potential of advancing the rights of older persons with disabilities because it challenges substituted decision-making regimes, involuntary treatment and institutionalization. The CRPD could also ensure their access to community-based support services and arrangements.
Some of the gaps identified during the meeting included the lack of standards on the rights of older persons with disabilities, the lack of a disability perspective with aging (or aging with disability) in public policies, legislation with arbitrary age provisions, the negative image of aging, and the lack of disaggregated data on older persons. The cooperation between the older persons and disability communities was also highlighted as being fundamental to enhance the focus on older persons with disabilities. Lastly, experts recommended that the CRPD Committee develops and adopts a General Comment on focusing on the rights of older persons with disabilities. [Summary of the meeting].
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National Human Rights Institutions
Civil Society, including Organizations of Persons with Disabilities
Academics and Individuals