High-level dialogue: ageing in a digital world: from vulnerable to valuable

17 May 2021 13:00h - 14:30h

Event report

Populations around the world are ageing, and this demographic transition will have consequences for almost all aspects of society. Currently, more than a billion people aged 60 years or more live in low- and middle-income countries. Recently, the UN and the WHO initiated the Decade of Healthy Ageing, a global collaboration to improve the lives of older people and to ensure that they can fulfil their potential with dignity and equality and in healthy environments. Moreover, the ITU-WSIS has continued its inclusion of Older Persons in its Summit, and the world has recognised the society-wide risks that older adults incur due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Against this background, the High-Level Dialogue on ‘Ageing in a Digital World: From Vulnerable to Valuable’ seeks to raise awareness among policy makers and public-private sector stakeholders regarding the various opportunities offered by this demographic transition (or ‘the Mega-Trend of Ageing’) and the role of information technologies in the enrichment, economic value, and health of all communities.

The session also saw the publication of the ITU report bearing the same title, ‘Ageing in a Digital World: from Vulnerable to Valuable’. Mr Stephen Bereaux (Deputy Director, ITU Telecommunications Development Bureau) presented the main conclusions and the guidelines offered by the ITU report, highlighting the role of digital technologies in helping older people to take their rightful place in the global community and to make valuable contributions to the socioeconomic development of the world.

The ITU report focuses on the need for a level playing field for older people, on their better engagement in the employment sector, and on the need for designing and developing technologies that help users overcome age barriers in an online environment. As digital technologies have become increasingly vital to promote the rights of persons around the world and to overcome physical and mental health challenges, it is important that everyone, regardless of age, can benefit from digital technologies, stated Mr Malcolm Johnson (Deputy Secretary-General of the ITU).

Older people should have a say in the global dialogue for creating an age-friendly digital environment and reaping the full benefits of digital technologies, said Ms Peggy Hicks (Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the UN Human Rights Office). She further stressed that older people do not form a homogenous group, and that the diverse variety of conditions and needs of older people in terms of human rights and technology should be duly addressed.

The culture of ageism, the myths, images, and stereotypes existing among different age groups were adressed by Mr Anshu Banerjee (Senior Advisor, WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research), who noted that they are a challenge for achieving an age-friendly digital environment. Such myths include the ideas that older people cannot properly use digital technologies, that they are a burden on society, or that the retirement age is a limit for their work and contribution to the economy. There is a need to change attitudes by various means, including forums that address the needs of older people in the digital environment.

Age stereotypes affect both younger and older people, often limiting their work opportunities. Technologies should be used to overcome such discrimination and inequalities and to achieve the various SDGs, such as the goal of elimination of poverty, ensuring work and economic growth and reducing inequalities, stated Ms Daniela Bas (Director, Division for Inclusive Social Development, UNDESA).

However, technology is only an enabler, Mr Esko Aho (Former Prime Minister, Finland) underlined. Stakeholders concerned with enhancing the opportunities for aging societies should focus on creating the right eco-system, using limited resources more efficiently, and learning from the experience of others.

The High-Level Dialogue on ‘Ageing in a Digital World: from Vulnerable to Valuable’ concluded with an award ceremony, where the winners and runners-up of the Ageing Better with ICTs World Hackathon and of the WSIS Healthy Ageing Innovation Prize were announced. The winners of the virtual hackathon are SyncUp from India (Challenge Area 1: Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline), Elderly for Detection from India (Challenge Area 1: Frailty), Smart Walking Stick from Zimbabwe (Challenge Area 3: Transportation and Mobility), and Bevol from the Syrian Arab Republic (Challenge area 4: Financial Tools for Longevity). The winner of the first-ever WSIS Healthy Ageing Innovation Prize is AgeCare Technologies, which offers a digitised ACT Assessment tool to promote healthy ageing globally.