Extending reasonable accommodation to older people
AGE participated at a seminar on "Accessibility and reasonable accommodation" organised by Equinet and the Austrian Disability Ombudsman in Vienna (Austria), in which we shed light on the importance of extending the scope of the 'reasonable accommodation' concept beyond disability and include older persons.
Reasonable accommodation means assistance or adjustment that is necessary so that individuals based on their personal situation and needs can have equal access to employment and services. This is a right included in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but also in EU Framework Employment Directive. EU law however only recognises this right in the workplace and only for persons with disabilities.
Older and young people, religious and racial minorities, women and other disadvantaged groups do not have access to a right to reasonable adjustments that are needed so that they can fully enjoy their human rights. This is why Equinet and the Austrian Disability Ombusdman dedicated a panel in the frame of their seminar that took place on 4-5 April in Vienna, on extending the scope of reasonable accommodation beyond the ground of disability. AGE gave a presentation highlighting cases where older people could benefit from such assistance and moderated a workshop on the same topic.
In some cases such changes are needed to cater for the changing needs of older workers, for example working on a larger screen for those with visual problems, making the work environment more accessible, working from home or during flexible hours. Representatives of equality bodies underlined that in certain countries, even if the reason why an employee asks for reasonable accommodation is related to an impairment or functional limitation, they may need to prove that they are a person with disability through a medical diagnosis. This considerably limits the possibility for older people to benefit from such arrangements.
Older workers may also need computer or occupational training so that they can make best use of their experience and remain competitive in the labour market. Unfortunately, there are cases when retraining is offered until a certain age and this might foster a vicious circle of long-term unemployment. Older workers, in particular women should also receive support and paid leave to balance work and care responsibilities. In some countries this possibility only exists for those who care for children and not for older people.
Some of these issues may be better dealt through structural changes, but employers could also offer such possibilities to their employees on the basis of an individual assessment. Other issues discussed during the workshop included online services and additional fees for face-to-face services and housing. Whereas there is no obligation for reasonable accommodation, there are some good practices on the ground. The adoption of the Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive - for which AGE has been advocating for many years now - would help to change policies across the European Union. In the meantime employers and service providers should take into account the specific needs of older people by making necessary adjustments that do not create undue burden.