HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Ageism and Ableism

Alan S. Gutterman, Ageism and Ableism (2023):

The World Health Organization has reported that approximately 16% of the global population, over 1.3 billion people worldwide, had some form of disability, and that an additional 190 million people (3.8% of people over 15 years of age) experience serious difficulties in functioning normally on a daily basis. In the US, 61 million, or 26% of, adult Americans have some form of disability, and 2 in 5 adults over the age of 65 have a disability. It has been reported that close to half of all people over the age of 65 in the European Union have some form of disability, putting them at increased risk of neglect, loss of support, abuse and poverty. While the number of persons with disabilities is large, their experiences are diverse and not all people with disabilities are equally disadvantaged. For example, disability does not necessarily imply limited well-being and poverty; however, growing evidence confirms that disability and poverty are highly correlated, and that disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty and disability and poverty reinforce each other in ways that contribute to increased vulnerability and exclusion.  


While the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006 and went into force in 2008, making it the first binding international instrument addressing the needs of persons with disabilities worldwide, disabled persons of all ages, and particular those who are older, face a number of barriers to inclusion including attitudinal barriers (e.g., stereotypes, prejudices, other forms of paternalistic and patronizing treatment, discrimination, fear, bullying and low expectations of people with disabilities); institutional barriers (i.e., laws, policies, strategies or practices that discriminate against people with disabilities including lack of enforcement and political support for policies); “internalized” barriers (i.e., due to stigma and stereotyping, disabled persons refrain from pro-active behavior in expressing their opinions and claiming their rights); lack of participation including lack of consultation and involvement of people with disabilities in decision making; inadequate data, statistics and evidence on what works; and inaccurate concerns over the costs and difficulties of disability inclusion (e.g., concerns that disability inclusion is too difficult and requires specialist knowledge or require special programs that would unduly burden existing resources).  

Not all older persons are disabled, nor is disability limited to older people. The challenges associated with ageism and ableism are distinct; however, there are common experiences, often due to stereotypical prejudices, that can be leveraged to push for better lives for members of both groups across the life span. This book discusses ageism and disability and realization of the human rights of older persons with disabilities and covers a range of subjects including definitions and models of disability, human rights of persons with disabilities, disability and development, protection of older persons with disabilities under human rights instruments and recommended approaches for addressing the human rights challenges of older persons with disabilities who live at the intersection of ageism and ableism.

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