Recently, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) published a detailed report on how to ensure equality and non-discrimination for people with disabilities. Looking into article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the OHCHR report reflected the inequalities, prejudice and day-to-day challenges of many disabled people, which include older people, as the probability of developing a mental or physical disability increases with age.
The UNCRPD represents the most advanced international human rights instrument on the rights of persons with disabilities and explicitly includes in its principles equality and non-discrimination, which underpin all its provisions. Discrimination against persons with a disability was not explicitly prohibited under existing international law before the adoption of the UNCRPD in 2006. Although in principle people with disabilities should be treated equally with everyone else and benefit from the same rights that are provided in international human rights treaties, the UNCRPD developed what substantive equality for people with disabilities would look like in practice. For example, this includes positive action to reform structures.
According to the Convention, State parties must reform and develop legal frameworks and policies to ensure equality for persons with disabilities, whilst also consulting closely with and actively involving persons with disabilities through their representative organisations. This applies to, and has the potential to be of great benefit to many organisations representing older people, who become afforded the opportunity to work closely with national policymakers on the implementation of the Convention, and can bring forward the perspective of older people with disabilities that perpetuate discrimination against disabled persons.
Relevance to older people
The OHCHR stresses that “social protection schemes should include older persons with disabilities, for instance by ensuring coverage of disability-related costs when transitioning to retirement”. This recommendation is in line with AGE’s contribution where we highlight the discriminatory treatment of older people with disabilities through age limits in access to disability-related benefits. Although it does not explicitly refer to equal treatment irrespective of the age of the individual, the OHCHR report suggests that disability-related services and benefits should be provided irrespective of the cause or kind of impairment. This could be interpreted as a call to treat people equally also when the primary cause of disability lies in old age. Moreover, the OHCHR asks States to develop policies in order to prevent the exclusion of groups at risk of discrimination, including those at the intersection of ageing and disability. NGOs can use these general principles to highlight the disadvantaged position of older people and call for increased help and assistance when disability occurs in old age.
Article 27 of the Convention, which focuses on work and employment, promotes equality by developing inclusive employment markets, providing for flexible working schedules and support when necessary, and developing the potential of all persons with disabilities. This is relevant to older workers who may be suffering from a disability, but wish to continue to work or be educated.
The report highlights, in particular, discrimination by denial of reasonable accommodation. The denial of reasonable accommodation in connection to any right therefore constitutes discrimination on the basis of disability. Examples of reasonable accommodations include making existing facilities and information accessible for a disabled person, adapting or acquiring necessary equipment, customising learning materials, adapting curricula to the capabilities of the person and adjusting medical procedures. This is especially vital for the enjoyment of equal rights by many older people as they may need appropriate modification and adjustments in order to participate equally in the workplace and beyond.
The report further notes that Article 31 of the Convention requires States to collect data, including statistical and research data, to assess the equality of persons with disabilities and to identify situations of structural discrimination. This will be important in pin-pointing when exactly older persons face discrimination and will make it easier to tackle the problem. This is why it is particularly important for NGOs to ensure that data do not have age limits and are adequately disaggregated, avoiding large age groups.
AGE feels that a significant part of this report could be interpreted to suit the needs of older people and that many recommendations and suggestions featured in the document could be used in future reference to secure the enjoyment of rights by older persons with functional limitations. Nevertheless, further specificity is needed in order to address the specific challenges and prejudices faced by older persons who require assistance due to old age disabilities and we hope that these will be tackled in future work at UN, EU and national levels.
For Additional Information, you may contact Nena Georgantzi, Human Rights Policy Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Age highlights structural discrimination against older people with disabilities –https://www.age-platform.eu/policy-work/news/age-highlights-structural-discrimination-against-older-people-disabilities
- AGE position on structural ageism: https://age-platform.eu/images/stories/Publications/papers/AGE_IntergenerationalSolidarity_Position_on_Structural_Ageism.pdf