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Message from the Council of Europe
Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities
(Partial Agreement)(CD-P-RR)

to the

UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing
(Berlin, 11-13 September 2002)

Ageing of persons with disabilities

1. Tribute to the United Nations’ activities on ageing

1. The Council of Europe Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities (Partial Agreement) (CD-P-RR) welcomes the UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing, Berlin, 10-12 September 2002, and pays tribute to the achievements of the United Nations in promoting the rights and social integration of older persons. The International Plan of Action on Ageing of 1982 and the United Nations Principles for Older Persons of 1991 have guided the course of thinking and action on ageing over a long time while putting the issues of independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity of older persons firmly on the international agenda. Furthermore, the International Year of Older Persons (1999) emphasizes the life-long and society-wide dimensions of ageing.

2. The Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities notes with satisfaction the International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002, which was adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing, Madrid April 2002, and which aims to ensure that people everywhere are able to age with security and dignity and to continue participating in their societies as citizens with full rights. It is of particular significance to the Committee that the International Plan of Action also highlights the special needs of older persons with disabilities in order to ensure their full integration into society, and that it particularly addresses the ageing of persons with disabilities. Such an approach is in full conformity with the objectives of the Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (92) 6 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on a coherent policy for people with disabilities, adopted on 9 April 1992.

2. The Council of Europe and the ageing of persons with disabilities

3. Already with the publication of the report Framework for the Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Data on the Ageing of People with Disabilities in 1997, the Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities reviewed the problems linked to the ageing of persons with disabilities and proposed solutions for enhancing their rehabilitation and integration. The report stressed the need for a holistic approach to disabilities and their individual and collective consequences in the process of ageing.

4. Since the publication of that report in 1997, there has been increasing interest in the specific problems experienced by disabled people as they grow older. These problems relate partly to the biological thresholds at which additional physical and cognitive impairments become functionally significant, partly to a wide range of other pathophysiological and biomechanical processes specific to disabled individuals, and partly to physical and cultural factors operating in the social environments in which people live.

5. There has also been a wider recognition of the need to establish policies and services that will meet the needs of the steadily increasing number of disabled people expected to survive into old age over the next 20 years in European populations. This increase is projected to occur partly as a consequence of the current demography of the population and partly because of greater success in the medical treatment and rehabilitation of people with disabling conditions such as complex trauma and stroke, resulting in an improved incidence of initial survival and longer subsequent life expectancy in those who have been left with continuing disability. The Council of Europe is currently studying possible measures to prevent disabilities linked to chronic diseases (tertiary prevention).

6. Minimising the impairments and optimising the activity and social participation of this enlarging section of the population is likely to require additional resources in order to implement more effective methods of reducing the rate at which impairments increase as ageing proceeds, together with progressive lowering of the barriers to the participation of disabled people in our societies. As outlined in the 1997 report, these barriers are multifaceted and include physical, social and cultural obstacles that are often imposed unwittingly.

7. In order to help overcome and avoid physical barriers to participation, the Council of Europe Resolution ResAP(2001) 1 on the introduction of the principles of universal design into the curricula of all occupations working on the built environment, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 15 February 2001, recommends the compulsory teaching of universal design principles to, architects, engineers and designers, , amongst others, in order to make the built environment more accessible, useable and understandable for people of all ages, sizes and abilities.

8. The Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities particularly welcomes the commitment to ensure that the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies, are available to all and wishes to draw attention to Council of Europe Resolution ResAP(2001) 3 “Towards full citizenship of persons with disabilities through inclusive new technologies”, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 24 October 2001. The Resolution stipulates that it is the responsibility of society to ensure equal access to technology applications for everyone, irrespective of age, gender or ability. All products and services should take account of the specific principles of availability, accessibility, usability, affordability, awareness, appropriateness, attractiveness, adaptability and compatibility.

9. A further and crucially important factor is that the demographic age structure of non-disabled populations will show similar changes, resulting in there being fewer younger people of working age to generate the wealth and provide the human resources needed to support those who have become disabled and indeed those who have retired from work. This will place a premium on measures that enable people with disabilities to remain independent and to contribute to the generation of wealth over a longer period of their lives than is currently either possible or customary. In this way, it may be possible for some of the costs to be offset. Measures to gain and maintain employment for people with disabilities are published in the report Employment strategies to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities on the labour market.

10. Supporting the pledge to eliminate all forms of discrimination against older persons, the Committee would like to draw attention to its report Legislation to counter discrimination against persons with disabilities, recommending to apply a balanced “policy mix” of non-discrimination legislation, preferential treatment and compensatory measures to combat discrimination.

11. Upholding the commitment to eliminate all forms of neglect, abuse and violence against older persons, the Committee would like to draw attention to its report Safeguarding adults and children with disabilities against abuse, which aims to make visible the extent and nature of such abuse, and to ensure that people with disabilities are safeguarded against deliberate and/or avoidable harm at least to the same extent as other citizens, and that where they are especially vulnerable additional measure are put into place to assure their safety. The report provides an achievable agenda for action at all levels against which progress can be measured.

3. Terminology

12. All these trends have been recognised for some years but the language in which some of the factors are described has changed since 1997. The meaning of the term ‘impairment’ has been extended to include restriction in the capacity of an individual to perform physical or cognitive functions in the manner or to the level that would be expected in a non-disabled individual. The term ‘handicap’ previously used to signify the restriction of a disabled person’s roles and participation has been discarded in favour of the concept of ‘activity’. The term ‘activity’ embraces all the personal and social roles and functions undertaken by the individual. This has the advantage of delineating the disabled person’s participation in society by what he or she does rather than by listing all that the person does not do. In shaping future policy and prioritising resources, it will clearly be important to develop ways of identifying what activities disabled persons wish to participate in, and what changes (whether in their impairment, personal resources or environmental barriers) would enable them to do so.

4. Need for action

13. These conceptual developments have not significantly altered the validity of the model proposed in 1997 except for the replacement of the element ‘handicap’ by the element ‘activity’. However, increasing awareness of the consequences of ageing on the one hand and of extending of life expectancy on the other will lead to an even greater emphasis on the importance of lowering societal barriers, especially in relation to personal independence and to economically productive work. More effective vocational rehabilitation and wider use of technology to enhance access and communication is likely to enable work to be undertaken by a wider range of people with disabilities in a wider range of environments.

14. In order to discuss policy responses in Europe and to set the future European disability policy agenda, the Council of Europe is currently preparing the Second European Conference of Ministers responsible for integration policies for people with disabilities, to be held in Malaga, Spain, from 7 to 8 May 2003 (2003 is also the European Year of People with disabilities, organised by the European Union). The theme of the Conference is “Improving the quality of life of people with disabilities: enhancing a coherent policy for and through full participation”. Sub-themes are “Promoting citizenship and full participation by developing effective legal and policy provisions to ensure equality of opportunities for people with disabilities” and “Developing innovative approaches in services, intended to meet the needs of people with disabilities as citizens”. Cross-cut issues will be the integration of persons with disabilities in need of a high level of support and of women with disabilities.

5. Conclusions

15. Disabled people are potentially an increasingly valuable resource to the community. Ensuring that they participate as fully as they wish will help to meet the objectives of equity (parallelism), participation and personal fulfilment and could at the same time help ensure that more resources are available to support the necessary changes. As the 1997 report explained, the process of ageing has specific effects upon disabled people over and above those experienced by non-disabled people. This matter will require urgent and explicit research if the full personal, social and economic potential of people with disabilities is to be realised within the time frame of the next 12 - 15 years. Such an outcome would help to create a society for all ages.