The difference between age-friendly and accessible
Anyone looking for an accessible flat quickly realises that age-appropriate and handicapped accessible are not the same thing. But what is actually the difference?
The similarities between disabled and elderly persons are great.For example, mobility, hearing or eyesight often deteriorate in old age.The ability to concentrate and memory may decline, and so on. So we find typical characteristics of a physical or cognitive disability.Of course, the differences are enormous. Some 70-year-olds run a marathon, while others are already dependent on a wheelchair.I can make it simple for myself at this point, those who do not have any serious physical or mental limitations naturally do not need any support and need not interest us at this point.But it also shows that older persons are just as little a homogeneous group as the visually impaired or wheelchair users.This means that blanket offers for services fit less and less.Instead, offers must be modularly structured, i.e. in such a way that everyone can design the offer according to their needs.
Age-appropriate products or services are less and less accepted in their current form. Manufacturers are being asked to make their products both more attractive and easier.For example, screen readers as used by the blind are still too complicated for older persons who have become blind or visually impaired late in life.SeniorBook (a German Facebook alternative for elderly) may be an attractive proposition for seniors today, but the seniors of the future will whistle for it and simply use Facebook or whatever takes its place, again a commonality with disabled persons.
Someone who loses their hearing or sight in old age naturally deals with it very differently than someone who is deaf or blind at an early age.
A blind or deaf person usually considers himself or herself disabled, especially if he or she has been so since birth.Someone with poorer hearing or vision at a more mature age often does not, even if he or she has a disability certificate or uses disadvantage compensation.Also, many older persons or their relatives often do not consider themselves disabled, even if they would be according to the definition.Often they don't even think about the fact that there are special aids that would make things easier for them.
In addition, it is much more difficult to adapt to the changed situation in old age.I always have to laugh when someone tells me (as a legally blind) that he can no longer cope with his 60 per cent visual test. But of course his situation is subjectively more difficult than mine; I have never been able to drive a car or read information signs. For the most part, I am adapted to my situation. For a newbie, even the smallest things like shopping are a challenge. This group also often finds it harder to ask strangers for help. As birth-disabled persons, we know what services and supports are available to us. A newbie often has to learn the ropes, assuming they are willing to use such services in the first place.
Instead of developing more and more accessibility standards, which all have their justification, it is important to integrate accessibility into existing standards.The second step, which is unfortunately necessary, is the enactment of laws that also oblige private institutions to provide accessibility.Today, it is no longer acceptable that buildings are still being built or buses purchased that are not accessible. Private building owners are happy to save a few thousand euros until they fall down their spiral staircase and need a plaster cast for two months. Or until they get old.I may say that most of them will be grateful, at least temporarily, for having been forced to become accessible.
Rehabilitation services need to be adapted accordingly.In my experience, most services are targeted at young or middle-aged disabled persons, persons who are often at the beginning or in the middle of their working lives.The need for age-appropriate rehabs will increase.They need orientation and mobility training and assistive devices adapted to their needs.Complex aids such as screen readers need to be radically simplified. Health insurance companies and other rehab providers must finally stop endlessly dragging out applications.
Then again, there are areas where older persons and persons with disabilities benefit equally:Tourist offers, products and services can be developed in such a way that they benefit a much larger number of persons. The mistake that is fundamentally made today is that disability is always seen as the exception and not the rule.An airport is built for the healthy sighted person and not for the visually impaired person with walking difficulties.Deutsche Bahn boasts about its mobility service instead of setting up the stations and trains in such a way that this service is only needed in exceptional cases. Who ever comes with the money argument at this point, accessibility is certainly not the highest in comparison and often not a relevant cost factor at all. They simply fail to realise that we are talking about a huge group of potential customers who will be lost if the right conditions are not created. I would like to repeat: many persons are not willing to ask strangers for help or to make use of special help offers because they do not consider themselves a target group for this or simply do not know that such offers exist. As a result, they refrain from using certain services and drop out as clients.
Another question is whether the services for disabled persons need to be adapted. If someone does not consider himself disabled, he will not claim disability benefits.Does the rag have to be called a severely disabled person's card, even though it is also used by persons with chronic or mental illnesses who are not "severely disabled"? Is severely disabled a category we still need in the 21st century?
Last but not least, disabled and older persons should become active in order to anchor inclusion more quickly and sustainably in society.Older blind persons still attach great importance to courses where they are among themselves.For example, the German aura centres offer countless courses in secluded health resorts.Undoubtedly, these offers will still exist in the future, yet I assume that inclusion in schools will lead to the disabled of today taking it for granted that all offers are inclusive. To paraphrase a motto: What is not inclusive will be made inclusive. This means that course instructors and other responsible persons who are open to this will let the disabled and older persons show them how they can make their offers inclusive or age-appropriate.
This point is important. There will never be enough inclusion training opportunities for all those in charge to be trained on how to make their provision inclusive. The ball is passed back to the early adopters, as you can call them. It is their turn, or our turn, to make our contribution to inclusion.
Similarly, inclusion of older persons is not a foregone conclusion. Of course, it is always easier to wait for the state to enact laws and policies against ageism and the like. But we can only break down the barriers in our heads ourselves.
What should we do?
Instead of developing more and more accessibility standards, all of which have their place, it is important to integrate accessibility into existing standards.
The second step, which is unfortunately necessary, is the enactment of laws that also require private providers to ensure accessibility. It is no longer acceptable today that buildings are still being built or buses purchased that are not barrier-free. Private builders are happy to save a few thousand euros until they fall down their spiral staircase and need a plaster cast for two months. Or until they get old. I dare say most of them will be grateful, at least some of the time, for being forced into accessibility.
Rehabilitation services must be adjusted accordingly. In my experience, most benefits are aimed at the young or middle-aged, people who are often at the beginning or middle of their working lives. The need for age-appropriate rehabilitation will increase. They need orientation and mobility training and aids adapted to their needs. Complex tools like screen readers need to be radically simplified. Health insurance companies and other rehabilitation providers must finally stop endlessly delaying applications.
Then again, there are areas in which older people and disabled people benefit equally: tourist offers, products and services can be further developed so that they benefit a significantly larger number of people. The fundamental mistake that is being made today is that disability is always viewed as an exception and not the rule. An airport is built for the healthy sighted person and not for the visually impaired person who is unable to walk. Deutsche Bahn prides itself on its mobility service, instead of setting up the stations and trains in such a way that this service is only required in exceptional cases. Anyone who comes with the money argument at this point, accessibility is certainly not the highest cost factor in comparison and is often not a relevant cost factor at all. It is simply overlooked that this is a huge group that will be lost as potential customers if the right conditions are not created. I like to repeat it: Many people are not prepared to ask strangers for help or to take advantage of special offers of help because they do not see themselves as a target group or simply do not know that such offers exist. As a result, they forego using certain services and are no longer customers.
Another question is whether disability benefits need to be adjusted. If someone does not consider themselves disabled, they will not receive disability benefits. Does the flap have to be called a severely disabled card, even though it is also used by people with chronic or mental illnesses who are not “severely disabled”? Is severely disabled a category that we still need in the 21st century?
Last but not least, disabled and older people should take action to anchor inclusion in society more quickly and sustainably. Older blind people still attach great importance to courses where they can be among themselves. The aura centers offer countless courses in secluded health resorts. These offers will undoubtedly still exist in the future, but I assume that inclusion in schools will mean that today's disabled people will naturally assume that all offers are inclusive. To adapt a motto: What is not inclusive is made inclusive. This means that course leaders and other responsible people who are open to this will let disabled and older people show them how they can make their offerings inclusive or age-appropriate.
This point is important. There will never be enough inclusion training courses so that everyone responsible can be trained on how to make their offerings inclusive. The ball is passed back to the early adopters, as you can call them. It is your turn or our turn to make our contribution to inclusion.
Likewise, the inclusion of older people is not a sure-fire success. Of course, it's always easier to wait for the government to enact laws and policies against age discrimination and the like. But we can only break down the barriers in our heads ourselves.