Older persons with disabilities in Europe

Older persons with disabilities in Europe

Persons with disabilities are a very heterogeneous group. EDF fights for the rights of all persons with disabilities, and this article focuses on older persons with disabilities who face specific challenges due to discrimination on the basis of disability and age combined- what we call intersectional discrimination.

Older persons with disabilities and intersectional discrimination

Older persons with disabilities face negative stigma for being both persons with disabilities and being older. They face stereotypes rooted in ageism – the word for age-based discrimination – and ableism – discrimination on the grounds of disability. Older persons with disabilities are seen as objects of care, rather than as active contributors to society. Also, older persons with disabilities are more subject to neglect, abuse and violence, both in institutional settings and when receiving care and support at home.

Older women with disabilities have consistently worse life prospects and outcomes than older women without disabilities and older men with disabilities. Gender roles and expectations often push these women into economic dependency. As a result, older women with disabilities are considerably poorer; are likely to be subject to violence, abuse and neglect; and have higher chances of facing unmet needs and human rights violations. In addition, older women with disabilities are more likely to be institutionalised or to develop age related impairments owing to the higher life expectancy of women compared with men [1].

EDF actions in 2020

EDF conducted two main actions to promote the specific needs and rights of older persons with disabilities at EU level.

In these documents, EDF emphasised the major challenges faced by older men and women with disabilities and called for actios in these areas:

  • An EU legal and policy framework relating to older people: Outside of employment and vocational training (Employment Equality Directive 2000/78), there is currently no comprehensive legislation relating to older people at EU level. Ratified by the EU and all its 27 member states, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires States Parties to take legal and policy measures to ensure the full enjoyment by older persons with disabilities of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others.
  • Poverty and social exclusion: The struggle to make ends meet is particularly present among older people, and even more so when they have disabilities and/or are women. The cost of living for older persons with disabilities far exceeds that of persons without disabilities, owing to extra costs needed to compensate for the general inaccessibility of society around them.
  • Discrimination in access to disability benefits: Age negatively impacts disability assessment and allocation of disability benefits, resulting in older people with disabilities not being offered the same level of quality or ranges of support as other persons with disabilities in countries such as, among others, Belgium, Ireland, France, Spain (Catalonia) and Sweden.
  • Access to goods and services: Persons with disabilities and older people are still denied right of equal access to most areas of public and private life due to inaccessibility of mainstream goods and services. Lack of a harmonised approach to accessibility and available and affordability of assistive technologies are issues, which the EU should address.

EU actions to promote the rights of older persons with disabilities

  • EDF calls the Commission to address the following issues in the Green Paper on Ageing and any other legislation relating to older persons with disabilities:
  • Consult with organisations of persons with disabilities or of older people in designing, implementing and reviewing legislation concerning them
  • Include explicit reference to, and compliance with, the CRPD in all EU legislation relating to older persons with disabilities.
  • Mainstream human rights and intersectionality: age related policies, and disability related policies, must be grounded in a human rights-based approach to disability and must be linked to one another to ensure harmonised actions.
  • Collect data about older persons with disabilities living in institutions and closed settings, and disaggregate general data by age, gender and disability.
  • Take specific measures to protect older persons with disabilities against neglect, abuse and violence. Specific attention should be paid to older women with disabilities and older persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.
  • Raise awareness to fight ageist and ableist stigma and stereotypes in society.
  • Include the principles of design for all and accessibility to boost accessibility of mainstream goods and services to older persons with disabilities, and the population in general.

More information


Marine Uldry
Human Rights Officer




[1] UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, report on the rights of older persons with disabilities, 17 July 2019, para. 9. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/SRDisabilities/Pages/SupportingTheAutonomyOlderPersons.aspx