Civil Rights & the Older Americans Act

Martin Luther King Jr. day is upon us which makes me think of civil rights. Dr. King led the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s that led to the Civil Rights Act being passed as legislation in 1965.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech Dr. King referred to the Declaration of Independence as a “promissory note” which “was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Dr. King had an unshakable belief that all people should be treated equal. This equality includes all people, regardless of any differences, including age and ability. The civil rights movement encompassed positive changes for Americans aged 60 and over.

The Older Americans Act, which also passed in 1965, provides for adequate income in retirement, adequate health care, housing, long-term care, recreation community services, freedom and self-determination, and protection against abuse, neglect, and exploitation for people aged 60 and older.

As we age, we are prone to illness, disability and often lower income. All of this creates unique civil rights challenges. The older American act and its subsequent amendments are there to help support the rights of older Americans.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services 1 in 5 people over the age of 60 are in some way serviced by the Older Americans Act. There is now an infrastructure across the United States known as the national aging services network. This network’s key service includes information and referral services. Regardless of where you live in the United States if you need homemaker or personal care services, home delivered or congregate meals, caregiver support, preventive health service, job training, transportation, legal assistance, or elder abuse prevention resources you can find that information at your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). SeniorCare Inc. is the local AAA for nine towns on the North Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

Unfortunately, older Americans are not recognized as a constitutionally protected class, however, additional legislation has been passed throughout the years to further protect the vulnerabilities of aging. Such as the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed, this piece of legislation protects applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.

As we contemplate Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence on the fight for fairness and equality next Monday, let’s not forget that equality, love, support, and compassion all are of the same family. We must ensure that all Americans are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of difference, ability and age. As President Obama said in farewell address to the Nation “For all our outward differences we are all in this together …we rise or fall as one.”