Page updated December 20, 2019

A world without ageism

December 20, 2019

Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) and Swinburne University showed how seniors in Melbourne’s east are defying ageist stereotypes at the launch of the OPERA project (Older People: Equity, Respect & Ageing). The event was held at Eastland Hoyts Cinema in Ringwood on 13 December 2019.

Eastern Metropolitan MLC Sonja Terpstra officially launched the OPERA project on behalf of The Hon. Luke Donnellan MP Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers and as state member for Eastern Metro Region.

ECLC CEO Michael Smith said the OPERA project contributes to and builds on the evidence base around the underlying causes of elder abuse which helps to inform practices on how we, as society, can stop it from happening in the first place.

“While there is not yet clear consensus, the literature suggests that ageism, including stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age, is a contributing factor to elder abuse.

“Based on this assumption, the OPERA project explores how ageism plays out in the day-to-day experiences of older people, to better understand its trajectory towards elder abuse,” said Michael.

ECLC OPERA project leader Jill Exon said what was interesting is that the project’s goal of unpacking the concept of ageism was not as straight forward as she expected. “We found that the term ‘ageism’ wasn’t one that resonated at all with community members. We really had to adapt our approach and shift our language,” said Jill.

Dr Diana Bossio, from Swinburne University’s Media and Communication Program, outlined the process. She said the method used was a co-design process. “We came to the process waiting to be surprised and interested in what everyone was saying about how they were experiencing ageism. What was most surprising was that no-one wanted to talk about ageism,” said Diana.

While there were many reasons why older community members who participated in consultations felt discriminated against and disrespected in society, there was the sense among participants, that in society, a person’s ‘value’ is directly linked to a person’s income and the perception of their capacity to contribute economically through an earned wage. “It was that if you’re not contributing financially to the economy, then you’re not of value,” said Jill.

Lynda, one of the community members who featured in one of the nine OPERA videos, said, “when you become older, it’s not just a matter of numbers. It’s a matter of who you are and what you want to contribute in society. Everyone has something different that they want to say.

“We need to be able to ask what does this person want to do? What do they want to say?

“We should not say that all 65 year olds want to do this or that all 70 year olds want to do that. Everyone can contribute in their own way,” said Lynda.

When older community members were asked how a world would look where older people feel safe, valued, and respected, they said it would be:

  • Where everyone is afforded, respected, and valued beyond their economic value
  • A holistic approach to health and wellbeing
  • Society and services that look after the most vulnerable community members
  • Courageous conversations that normalise and embrace ageing
  • Being more community minded rather than focussing on individuals.

The event also launched the OPERA website that features the nine video stories as well as the research reports from the project.

ECLC acknowledges the Victorian State Government Free From Violence funding stream that enabled the OPERA project. It also acknowledges project partner, Swinburne University and the project steering committee.

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