I read an article in the Sunday, November 2, 2014 NY Times by Louise Aronson in which she lamented the fact that so many of our buildings were inappropriate for many seniors and disabled people, despite the advances and regulations in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Accompanying her ailing father, she soon realized that many of the buildings, while ADA-compliant, did “not ensure access or safety” for what she noted was a rapidly growing population.
My wife and I realized that years ago when we were dealing with our aging parents. We made do as so many still make do. But it wasn’t easy. Now that I have some difficulty with my own mobility, and I have a lower score on the Level of Activity Scale I designed for my book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life, I realize how poorly our society has dealt with this issue of inaccessibility. As Ms. Aronson noted, “Just as green architecture and design came into being in response to the energy crisis of the late 1970s, we in the 21st century have to start creatively building to meet the challenges of our aging population. We need ‘silver’ architecture and design.”
What does she mean? She means, for example, having well-lit areas and doors that don’t take a great deal of strength to open. Nor requiring small keys that are hard to manipulate and fit into even smaller keyholes. She has other suggestions, much like those we find in many books about caring for older people—my own book included (Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents).
What Ms. Aronson and I both hope is that her article goes viral and leads to more developers, architects, and urban planners designing buildings and communities that are more accommodating to me and to those who need a bit more help than younger and healthier people. We both hope there are schools or architecture that offer programs in cooperation with geriatric programs and that some foundations set up awards for the most creative designs in silver architecture that meet the needs of residents who may not see, hear, or walk as well as some others. I’d love to not walk up stairs if I don’t have to—I’m not as steady as I am on ramps. I’d love to be in buildings that have adequate lighting and adequate seating. And please don’t make me walk the entire length of the Metro or subway platform to find the elevator! Especially when I have to walk back the other way again when I get to the street level.
As we Baby Boomers age, more of us are going to want silver architecture in our homes, businesses, and public areas. We’re already seeing and using more “smart” homes that take care of some of our needs. We have green buildings to help reduce our energy consumption. Now we need to focus our energy on encouraging more builders to come up with creative ways to handle our changing physical needs. We boomers have been instrumental in making lots of other significant changes. Maybe we can do this one too.