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 live with a disability, making this the largest community of persons with disabilities—and one of the most stigmatized and neglected.
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 vulnerable people are entrapped.
Being old and disabled 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 stigma based on gender, ethnicity and other factors, older persons with disabilities are among the most marginalized people 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.
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 to ensure that they enjoy all their rights. In this report, the Special Rapporteur makes a series of recommendations to promote and protect these rights, including the need for States to ensure that laws prohibit discrimination based on age or disability, to establish rights-based community support, improve the accessibility of the physical environment, guarantee access to justice and promote participation in decision-making.
But to succeed, States' action must contribute to changing common fears and perceptions of ageing. A full paradigm shift is needed in the way society perceives and interacts with its older members. While impairment might be a natural aspect of ageing which should be embraced as part of human diversity, discrimination and social exclusion are not.