As anyone who lives with a chronic health condition or disability knows, it’s easy to become isolated because of the body’s limitations. This is especially true for seniors. As the National Institute on Aging (NIH) has reported, social isolation and loneliness can worsen the physical health of seniors, leading to poor health outcomes.
With as many as 13.8 million older adults living alone, one of the best ways to combat social isolation is to ensure that shared spaces are accessible. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) both have standards for the accessibility of new construction, but those standards are designed primarily to aid those with mobility impairments.
Since many older adults used to be able-bodied, adapting to new physical limitations during their senior years means navigating new skills and tools. Fortunately, advocating for accessibility is something that we can all help with, in both small- and large-scale ways.
Making Social Events Accessible
To help make social events more accessible for seniors, a little practice goes a long way in anticipating their needs and communicating openly. Here are some easy techniques to improve accessibility when planning social events:
- Choose to hold events in spaces that have few stairs and require little walking to reach the location.
- Describe to guests (and their caregivers) exactly how many stairs they’ll need to climb and what kind of seating will be available.
- Find out whether anyone has dietary restrictions, and stock appropriate food and beverages.
- Limit background noise during conversation.
- Increase the volume or display subtitles while listening to music or watching movies and TV.
- Keep the lights bright to ensure clear visibility.
- Widen walkways to make sure that mobility aids fit comfortably.
Advocating for Accessibility in Public
Many of these same principles apply to public spaces as well, but of course you have less control over those environments. There are still good options for advocating for seniors, though. It helps to:
- Contact venues to ask what accessibility accommodations they offer.
- Describe the needs of seniors attending, and ask how they’ve accommodated similar needs in the past.
- Ask to bring anything you think will help, whether it’s larger chairs, cushions, and bolsters, or durable medical equipment.
- Request to be seated near the bathroom, in a warm area, or somewhere else that will be more comfortable for your guests.
- Ask to have the volume of music lowered or the lights raised.
- Always choose to patronize businesses that prioritize accessibility.
When you make it a point to ensure that spaces are accessible, you’ll quickly find that it’s not just seniors who benefit. Disability is a fact of life for 61 million adults — that’s one in four! — so you can feel great knowing that accessibility makes a huge difference for many of us.