Demographic change and the lack in Accessibility

It has been clear for many decades that the population is aging. But neither the state nor the private sector is prepared for this development. This problem will be upon us very soon, as I want to show in this article.

There is something fatalistic about it: on the one hand, we know that aging is taking place and what problems older people have to cope with. On the other hand, we happily sleep on and don't prepare for it, even though we would have the time and resources to do so.

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The consequences of getting older

Aging in itself is not a uniform phenomenon, which is why it is not possible to state exactly which person will be affected by which disability in which age. The consequences depend on many other factors such as prevention, health care, lifestyle, financial situation, social relations and so on.

In addition, age has changed significantly: A person who is 60 years old today is probably healthier on average than their peers were 20, 40 or 60 years ago.

But some factors are clear: I don't know of any person whose sensory perception, mobility, responsiveness or cognitive processing has improved with age. A lot can be achieved with regular training and compensation strategies. But sooner or later there comes a point where it inevitably gets harder.

Fatally, this point could come sooner for us office people, mockingly called homo büronicus, than for body workers. There is no need to glorify the piecework in the factory, the drudgery in the mines or the drudgery on the construction site. But office workers are also confronted with postural damage caused by an unhealthy posture. The constant staring at nearby objects such as screens and smartphones and the associated unhealthy posture will not go unnoticed.

Challenges of everyday life

Stairs are of course insurmountable for wheelchair users, but also for walker users. But they are also dangerous for people with slight gait insecurity or dizzy spells. For an elderly person, a fall can be life-threatening, but it can also cause the person to become immobile due to broken bones. Fear of it alone can prevent those affected from taking the stairs. But if you don't want to take the stairs, you often have to take long detours. If you are already a slow road user, it costs even more time. In this context, one also thinks of the many stairs without railings that are found on hiking trails.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of Deutsche Bahn should also be seen in this context, most of the competitors don't seem to be any better in local transport either. Except for the bicycle compartment, it is always necessary to climb stairs and overcome a greater distance between the train and the platform. The mobility aid from Deutsche Bahn can be filed under the category "well intentioned": No non-disabled person would be told that they had to let them know 24 hours in advance which train they wanted to take, that they should be at the travel center 20 minutes beforehand and then, kindly drive when the staff is on duty. Another issue is the elevators, which are often unusable for a long time. At the smaller stations, even in the big cities, there is often no help or elevators at all.

These are artifacts, you could say: leftovers from the past. After all, trains run for a very long time. Unfortunately, that is wrong: Even today, trains with steps are bought and not enough wheelchair spaces/toilets are bought, which will probably still be running in ten years.

This is also a challenge for the gastronomy in the old towns: While the restaurants themselves are often on the ground floor, the toilets are often in the basement, which can be reached via a winding staircase. And that unfortunately also applies to many other leisure facilities.

The workplaces are also often located in old buildings. Making it accessible is at least difficult. A stair lift can be installed. But in order to install a wheelchair-accessible toilet, the layout of the rooms often has to be changed.

Unfortunately, the same applies to medical practices. With the exception of one of my doctors, they are all in old buildings, some with several stairs. Needless to say, as you get older, you need to see a doctor more often.

There are no accessible apartments

The problem of accessible apartments is probably the most serious. accessible apartments for wheelchair users are already hard to come by today. What will it be like if more and more people need a rollator or have problems with stairs in general?

Many residential buildings have no ramp at the entrance, no elevator in the house and are designed in such a way that they can hardly be used with a walker. A rollator user needs less turning space than a wheelchair user, but they too will have problems in a toilet the size of a phone booth.

Modern residential buildings are often equipped with elevators. However, the public sector has largely stopped building housing and private investors also seem more interested in cannibalizing the rental bubble than in new construction. It is a beautiful example of the total failure of the market and capitalism.

Un-universal design

With the exception of computers and smartphones, universal design in technology has not only stagnated, it has also regressed. More and more devices are equipped with touchscreens as standard, which are inaccessible for the blind and difficult for the visually impaired. Elderly people have to lean forward to read and operate these displays. I really mourn the time when you could operate such devices without looking and paying full attention. Unfortunately, apps and Alexa are not a solution, not everyone wants to use their smartphone for a load of laundry or a coffee or deliver their habits to Google and Co. free of charge.

Today we feel like we are talking more about accessible and universal design than ever before. But it feels like little has happened outside of the digital realm - and here, too, there is more talk than action. This can also be seen from the fact that accessibility is a niche topic at mainstream events, if at all, but often does not occur at all.

The problem, especially the scarcity of accessible living space, means of transport, medical practices and jobs, is almost as big as the issue of climate change. And similarly unresolved.

The failure of our governments

It remains a mystery why all federal governments and the EU have ignored many practical problems such as household appliances with the European Accessibility Act. Just think where we would be today with a serious version of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Large parts of the economy are still lobbiing against tougher laws on accessibility and are thus blocking their own future. Unfortunately, all federal governments of the last few decades have been among the brakes on accessibility in the EU. 16 years of Merkel government were 16 years of standstill. Red-Green has done little and Red-Green-Yellow has not shown any great ambitions so far.