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Paradigm shift needed to end human rights abuses of older people with disabilities, says UN expert

NEW YORK (21 October 2019) – Millions of people around the world are being denied autonomy, face discrimination and are being left behind simply because they have a disability and are elderly, says UN expert Catalina Devandas.

“The human rights of older people with disabilities are not being respected. They are often considered as a burden and their lives are no longer thought of as having any value,” said Devandas, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, presenting a report to the UN General Assembly.

“Institutionalisation and coercion of older people with disabilities has become normalised because of lack of adequate support. States must take action to counter social misperceptions of older people with disabilities by providing human rights-based responses.

“These misperceptions and stigma fuel a cycle of exclusion, violence and abuse in which older people remain trapped, with no legal avenue to challenge their situation.

“All forms of discrimination on the grounds of disability and age must be banned, including all forms of involuntary institutionalisation and treatment. Governments must also take action to support the autonomy of older people with disabilities and their inclusion in society.”

The expert said a paradigm shift was needed around the world in the way societies perceived and interacted with older people.

“States have an obligation to ensure that older people with disabilities have access to rights-based community support. They must also act to improve access to the physical environment and guarantee access to justice. These are essential conditions for the full and equal enjoyment of the fundamental rights and freedoms of older people with disabilities.

“While acquiring an impairment may be a common experience of ageing, intrinsic to the human condition and human diversity, discrimination and social exclusion should not be.” Devandas said.


Ms Catalina Devandas (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. She has worked extensively on the rights of persons with disabilities and inclusive development for the past 20 years, including with the World Bank, the United Nations, and international donor organizations. Her work priorities include socioeconomic inclusion, the promotion of full citizenship of persons with disabilities, and embracing diversity/understanding that persons with disabilities are part of human diversity.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For press enquiries and additional information, please contact:
Ms Cristina Michels (+41 22 928 9866 /
cmichels@ohchr.org) and Ms Azin Tadjdini, (+41 22 917 9400 /  atadjdini@ohchr.org), or write to sr.disability@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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