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This special issue of Human Rights focuses on the changing face of elder rights. In keeping with the focus of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section (IR&R), I have attempted to present a broad range of articles that encompass many of the individual rights issues most important to older people: housing, independence, employment, health, and long-term care.
The skyrocketing growth in the number of people sixty-five and older in the United States has propelled significant changes and some improvements in areas of law important to the lives of older people. The demographics of an aging population have spurred attorneys to work with other professionals to improve the quality of life available to older Americans. This process has been fueled significantly by the advocacy efforts of organizations like the AARP. As the baby boomers approach retirement, this trend will move at a much faster rate.
Forced ranking can provide a patina of legitimacy that obscures—perhaps, in some cases, even from the decision makers themselves—the reliance on unfounded stereotypical assumptions about older workers, such as the canard that older workers are resistant to change and innovation and, therefore, cannot adapt to the virtual realities of the computerized twenty-first century workplace, whereas their younger counterparts can do so easily.
Even in the best of circumstances, obtaining citizenship within seven years is very difficult because of the substantial processing backlogs at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Those backlogs have been greatly excacerbated by the security measures enacted after September 11. However, most disabled and elderly refugees face additional hurdles on the path to naturalization. For them, learning English and passing the civics test may pose an insurmountable barrier to U.S. citizenship, on which their eligibility to retain their SSI benefits hinges.
Over the years, the Commission’s mission has been expanded to strengthen and secure the legal rights, dignity, autonomy, quality of life, and quality of care of elders. It now consists of a fifteen-member interdisciplinary body of experts in aging and law. With its professional staff, the Commission examines a broad range of law-related issues pertaining to the rights of older people, including access to the legal system; health and long-term care; housing; Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other public benefit programs; planning for incapacity; guardianship; elder abuse; healthcare decision making; pain management and end-of-life care; dispute resolution; and court-related needs of older persons with disabilities.
Housing choice and equal opportunity are part of the American Dream, and where we live has a profound impact on who we are and what opportunities we will enjoy. Since the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968, we have taken it for granted that we can live wherever we desire and that it is wrong for others to artificially limit our choices.
The dilemma of finding workable decision-making mechanisms for unbefriended elderly patients is a difficult one. Lawyers focused on individual rights and responsibilities may want to experiment with approaches to assist this most vulnerable population.
Facing many of the same demographic challenges that confront the United States, particularly aging workforces followed by shrinking numbers of younger workers, the European Union (EU) has begun to combat age discrimination in employment. On November 27, 2000, the European Union Council of Ministers adopted the European Directive on Equal Treatment (Directive). This legislation requires all fifteen EU Member States to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and disability by December 2, 2003, although they are each permitted to seek a three-year extension to 2006 with regard to the age and disability grounds.
A recent study of residential care facilities (RCFs) indicates that 60 percent of elderly people of color experience discrimination in seeking placements. Conducted by Fair Housing of Marin, in areas of both Marin and Sonoma counties, the results showed clear evidence of differential treatment that favored Caucasian applicants.