IACHR and RFOE Call on States to Adopt Measures to Reduce Digital Divide for Older People

October 1, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — On the International Day of Older Persons, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE) are calling on States to adopt positive measures to reduce the digital divide that impacts older people, strengthen policies concerning access information and communication technologies (ICTs), and make these affordable.

The IACHR and the RFOE are concerned about the disproportionate impact that inequalities in access to digital technologies are having on older people. As was noted in the IACHR's practical guide How to promote universal internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic?, the internet is a crucial tool for improving people's quality of life, as it enables decentralized interactions that are not restricted by borders. During the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access often also determined whether or not people were able to connect with their families, communities, and society, and proved key to certain fundamental rights, such as access to information, the rights of assembly and association, civil and political rights, the right to education, the right to participate in cultural life, and the right to health.

Both the IACHR and the RFOE observed that since 2015, people between the ages of 15 and 29 use the internet 7 to 9 times more than people over the age of 60. They have also noted that certain structural inequalities reinforce this digital divide even among older people themselves, whose access to the internet varies according to their socioeconomic status or their geographic location, more so since the start of the pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the digital divide on older people was heightened due to the increased digitization of a wide range of public, social, and health-related services as medical services, banking procedures, information on public transportation, and education moved increasingly online. Consequently, older people are facing greater barriers to access the services due to their lack of connectivity and digital skills.

While digital tools have played an enabling role in the management of public goods and services during the COVID-19 pandemic, they should not constitute an obstacle for those who do not have access to them. The IACHR acknowledges that technology may complement the services deployed by States for accessing rights, but it must not be the only channel through which these are guaranteed, as there is an enormous risk that older people will be left out.

The International Day of Older Persons is an appropriate occasion to recall that the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Rights of Older Persons commits States to adopting measures to ensure that older people have access to information and communications on an equal basis with all others, including ICTs.

The countries of the Americas are currently facing significant challenges around the inclusion of individuals and groups of people who do not have internet access or the skills and competencies needed to use ICTs. On this point, the IACHR and RFOE drew attention to the policies and programs implemented by several states in the region to provide ICT training for older people to contribute to their social integration and development, while also providing a valuable tool for increasing their knowledge and awareness to fully exercise their rights.

In light of these considerations, the IACHR and the RFOE are calling once more for the fast-tracking of policies to promote universal, high-quality internet access. They also encouraged States to promote education and support for older people in developing digital competencies and skills from a human rights perspective, taking an intersectional approach that contemplates inequalities based on gender, location, and socioeconomic status, prioritizing particularly vulnerable groups, and promoting their integration into society and their communities.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 259/21

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