Rights of Older Persons with Disabilities

On 17 July 2019, the UN Secretary-General had the honour to transmit to the General Assembly the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council Resolution 35/6.

The Special Rapporteur examines the situation of older persons with disabilities and provides guidance to member States on how to promote, protect and ensure their human rights and fundamental freedoms, paying special attention to the intersection between ageing and disability.

Ageing and disability

The world population is ageing. The population aged 60 or above is growing at a rate of about 3 % per year. (Source UN DESA World Population Prospects 2017). The number of people over the age of 60 is expected to increase from 12 % in 2015 to 21 % in 2050. In Mauritius, we shall be 29.6 % of people above 60 from a population of 1.3 million in 2050. The Rapporteur observes that "population ageing in low-income countries occurs much faster than in medium to high income countries". Also noted is the fact that women live longer than men and are in general among those aged 80 years and above.

This demographic trend is attributed generally to the following factors: better nutrition, better medical treatment, better work conditions, and leisure. Paradoxically a longer lifespan is associated with an increased prevalence of chronic diseases and ultimately result in disabilities, notes the Rapporteur.

Living longer and disability

Healthy people live longer. Many persons with disabilities also live longer which is due to, inter alia, factors as modern technology which enhances medical advancement in a context of socio-economic developments.

According to the findings of the Rapporteur, more than 46 % of old persons worldwide, some 250 million are subject to moderate to severe impairments. Older persons are the majority suffering from disabilities. In the breath by 2050 the number of persons over 80 will more than triple. From this backdrop the correlation between the ageing population and increased rates of disability is evident.

There is marked attention on the rights of older persons, and without doubt, at least locally, the inception of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing in 2010 has had an impact in the minds of people in general and of older persons in particular. People are more aware. They are prominent in making demands so much so that a host of assistive devices and technology are now available. I may mention here the low floor platform that allows citizens with disabilities to access public transport. At home the Global Rainbow Foundation has shown the importance of a whistle which the older sick person could utilize when in need of help.

Of importance in the Report is the "mainstreaming of older persons' agenda which has shed light on issues still considered taboo for persons with disabilities, such as sexuality and incontinence, contributing to reduced misconception and stigma about the issues".

Concept of Ableism and Ageism

Ableism is discrimination in favour of able-bodied persons. Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. It is an attitude that devaluates and limits the potential of persons with disabilities. 

As opposed to ‘ableism’ ‘ageism’ which is now a household word, is a distinct form of oppression that affects older persons, including persons with disabilities. People have a negative and stereotyped attitude vis-à-vis an older person, consider them as useless, unproductive, a burden. Among them are persons who were born with a disability and barriers that the latter have experienced earlier in life are exacerbated later by older age. And there are those who have ‘acquired’ a disability from old age.

Whether it is a case of ‘ableism’ or ‘ageism’ the inhumanity is comparable.

Forms of discrimination and older women with disabilities

Older persons with disabilities (from birth or acquired) are seen to have lost their power coupled with their status, no more enjoy their autonomy to decide for themselves, are marginalized starting from the home and out into the city. 

I quote "older women with disabilities have consistently worse life prospects and outcomes than older women without disabilities and older men with disabilities".

Older women with disabilities are somewhat invisible in our society or rather we consider an impaired older woman or man for that matter as a case of natural process, going old. And women live longer.

Other observations

The stigma around disability having regard to older persons might discourage them from seeking medical treatment. They might not want to make use of mobility aids and assistive devices. These people are so desperate that they isolate themselves socially.

In our country people with disabilities, specially the young generation, have proved they are capable of great strides and achievements in fields galore. It is hoped that in older age they continue to command respect, be assisted whenever and wherever required, and not considered as a spent force.

Also, if there is one case of impaired person whose rights are not respected in the Republic, it is one case too many.

Article 13 of the Protocol w.r.t Older Persons with Disabilities

For the purpose of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa adopted by the AU in January 2016 State Parties shall, including of all other 30 Articles shall 

1.    Adopt legislation and other measures to protect the rights of Older Persons with disabilities,
2.    Ensure that such legislation and measures comply with regional and international standards, and 
3.    Ensure that Older Persons with disabilities have access to assistive devices and specialized care, which respond to their needs within communities.

Mauritius has yet to sign and ratify the Protocol.

Vijay Naraidoo, 
President of the Commission for the Rights of Older People of DIS-MOI

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