Supporting the Autonomy and Independence of Older Persons with Disabilities
Approximately one billion people are persons with disabilities. A significant number of them, particularly in high-income countries, are older persons. This overrepresentation of older persons among those with disabilities reflects the sustained ageing of the global population, as well as the increased life expectancy of persons with disabilities. 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.
On the 25-26 October 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas, and 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. For more information on the discussion, please find the summary of the meeting here.