Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
Last week, I attended an accessible design symposium at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City to see what ideas I could use with elders in long-term care. Through listening to the symposium speakers, reading descriptions of works featured in the student design contest and viewing the Access+Ability exhibit, I found more than I had expected.
Crash course in accessible design
I suspect I’m not the only McKnight’s reader with a lack of knowledge about accessible design — even though we work with elders with abilities that are typically different than those of younger adults.
Patricia Moore, introduced as “the mother of universal design,” told the audience that her elderly grandparents inspired her work. They struggled to maintain their independence in a world that made it difficult for them. “Grandma wasn’t broken,” she said. “The tools we gave her were inadequate.”
In my crash course in accessibility, I learned that objects can be designed in ways that increase the mismatch between our bodies and the environment or, in accessible design, to intentionally decrease that mismatch. For example, the standard design of a walking cane allows it to fall to the floor, making it difficult to retrieve for someone with mobility problems. In the Cooper Hewitt exhibit, I saw canes that stayed upright when not in use.
Another speaker discussed how “designing for disability” very often results in products that are good for everyone, such as books on tape, height adjustable desks or ramps for building access that are used by parents pushing strollers and travelers with rolling suitcases, in addition to those with walkers or wheelchairs.
Nothing about us without us
There was a small, vocal group of disability activists present. When I entered the symposium I was handed a card from their organization that read, “Nothing about us … without us.” They echoed the sentiment of the speakers that increasing the diversity of people designing products and systems results in products and systems that work better for a larger number of people.
Including elders and direct care staff in more of the decisions that affect them within our organizations is likely to result in better decisions.