Digitalisation: an additional threat to human rights in older age?
In today’s world, in a process of constant change, older persons have new opportunities and growing challenges to “not be left behind”. Sandra Huenchuan yet explains the flawed dimension of this assumption that digital societies would necessarily be participatory and shed light on the risks of technologies to reinforce older persons’ exclusion.
Older persons’ personal characteristics – such as sex, ethnic/racial origin, work life, educational level and enjoyment of cultural assets – influence their access to the benefits of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. The digital gap that older people face is closely linked to the generational one, where chronological age often remains a selective criteria to access education and training.
Without a change in power relations between generations and the eradication of other associated inequalities, older persons will increasingly face barriers that limit the enjoyment of opportunities offered by the digital era in areas such as education, health, care, mobility, transportation, among others. These barriers, in general, usually go unnoticed and are considered a minor issue for the prosperity of the people and their communities.
It is believed that older persons have obsolete knowledge and skills acquired during their youth, being trapped in an unequal relationship that restricts them from the benefits of access and use of technology. The basis of this situation is ageism understood as a discrimination against older persons based on stereotypes and differential treatments that have the effect of nullifying, hindering and preventing the full exercise of their rights and freedoms.
This is where the State has a key role to play to ensure accessibility, availability, acceptability and quality for all people in the access and use of technologies under equal conditions. To advance in this path, it is essential to extend the protection and guarantee of the human rights of the older persons in order to prevent and correct the exclusion or disadvantage mechanisms that affects them.
Different authors have stated that the digital age can exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and create new ones. In this scenario, we must ensure that all older persons have the same opportunities to benefit from technological advances and enable them to make use of them, when they have decided so. An international convention on human rights and the dignity of the older persons would be a fundamental step in that sense because it would allow to alleviate disadvantageous situations and eradicate age discrimination in this area, as well as in other spheres of social life.
Sandra Huenchuan Navarro holds a PhD in Latin American Studies, Major in Anthropology from Chile’s University of Arts and Social Sciences; a Post-Doctorate in anthropology from the University of Chile. She has served since 2002 as a specialist on ageing affairs at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) of the United Nations.