What if DESIGN is DISABLED, not PEOPLE?

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I have read a couple of great and thought provoking blogs and articles recently, and saw something inspiring this morning on our local news, that are worth sharing.  They bring up some very valid points that related directly to our stance that “Aging In Place” and Universal Design is really just making things work better for EVERYONE in our built environments.

One of the blog articles poses the question “Is (Universal) Design a Moral Issue? – worth the read…  And then on King 5 news this morning, I saw men in wheelchairs that were fly fishing ON the lake here in the Seattle area!  These older men were SO HAPPY to be out ON the water, it was inspiring.  The floating dock with a trolling motor was a design inspired by the ADA outhouse right by the lake, and is now a product that takes retired war vets out on the lake to fish.  Too cool!

The reality that the built environment around us is designed for a right handed person, with average height and weight, that is perfectly and completely mobile, with perfect sight, perfect hearing, and the ability to verbally communicate with another human being, is well, OUT OF DATE.  I mention this when I speak publicly on “The Aging In Place Phenomenon”, followed by the question “Is that YOU?  Is it your PARENTS?  Will it be you 5, 10, 20 years from now?”.  NO, of course not.  In the course of an active life and sports career I’ve been hurt before.  I’ve strained a rotator’s cuff pitching in baseball, separated a collar bone while snow skiing, torn an achillis tendon playing basketball, and been in a few car accidents as well.  When you can’t use your body “normally” (whatever THAT means?) then the place you live doesn’t function as well.  We ALL KNOW THIS.  

So why doesn’t our house, our street, our neighborhood, consider the fact that “normal” isn’t even truly definable, and the design of our homes and neighborhoods could be so much different and BETTER, more inclusive for the ease of use for EVERYONE.  And that person is not “normal” or “average” or “perfect” in ANY WAY.  None of us are.  I mean I may have THOUGHT that I had the perfect ratio of an Adonis body when I was 23 years old… No, no… not even then did I think I was perfect or normal.  I’m tall, lanky, my arms are longer than most, and I’m almost all legs.  Clothing designers don’t design for my body type, and neither do architects and builders.  The same thing goes for you.  We don’t fit in, we aren’t normal.  Almost nobody is NORMAL by the current design standards.  And with 10,000 people turning 65 years old every day now (since Jan. 2011), the numbers of us that don’t fit “the norm” is going to increase exponentially in the next few decades.

I mean, if we are so far past the era of Rosa Parks (thank goodness), then why does the world around us still silently segregate people based on our abilities and how we move, speak, hear, and interact with the built environment?  Maybe it’s that our DESIGN is DISABLED, not our PEOPLE?  I think this is the truth of the matter.  Design should be “INCLUSIVE”, not “EXCLUSIVE” in nature, and with a little bit of caring, foresight, and attention to the details, I think it CAN BE.  But right now, the vast majority is NOT.  Yes, public buildings require ADA code compliance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg related to all of the places, locations, and spaces we occupy during an average day.

I mentioned to someone recently at lunch, “If I won the lottery and I could afford to lobby for the next decade, I’d love to see the LAWS changed so that developers have to consider in new housing developments that a fair percentage of those homes should be at a bare minimum VISIT-able (Atlanta has begun to get a foothold on this great concept of visit-ability) and some percentage of those houses which should be required to be relative to the demographic surroundings for age and range of ability of the populations the housing will serve, should be designed with better accessibility and usability than the standard spec-house that builders and developers have been plopping down for the past two decades or more.”  

Yes, I’m passionate about the topic of Aging In Place, and willing to voice my two cents at any chance I’m given to share that opinion, as it’s backed by almost two decades of experience in architecture and real estate as a career, coupled with our CAPS credentials of being a Certified Aging In Place Specialist.  So we don’t mind sharing, and we speak publicly as often as possible, giving presentations to Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, Urban Land Institute conference on “Building Better Neighborhoods”, co-hosting a Seattle radio show “Encore Living”, and now this spring we were asked to join two other great thought leaders on the topic, Dr. Patrick Roden of AgingInPlace.com and the co-author of MetLife’s Aging 2.0, Mr. Louis Tenenbaum.  We’re honored and blessed to be considered with these two gentlemen to join them on stage at the ASA’s spring 2013 Aging In America conference in Chicago, IL. and to be placed (so early in our AIP career focus) in this upper echelon of the playing field for those national thought leaders who are leading the charge and changing the face of housing and home health care at an individual level and a “full turnkey systems solution” paradigm shifting level as well.  We are truly blessed and honored.

I guess our consistency of message, our passion, and our caring has been shining though as we preach to the public in B2C message as well as our industry and jurisdictions in B2B format as well.  Trust and rapport come from being honest, having integrity, and striving to be
the best resource and highest professional value we can to our clients and the public.  Thank you to everyone who has come aboard at EtMM with our online community via signing up to stay plugged in via our newsletter, as well as tuning in to our blogging, podcasts, interviews of other professionals and industry leaders in the movement, vlogging (video blogging), and our radio show in Seattle and streaming on the internet.

A paradigm shift takes time, educating, as well as a drive and passion that keeps you up at night… We’ve chosen to take that on in the realm of our residential architecture practice at ADM Architecture, and our outreach program for Baby Boomers and their families here at Empowering The Mature Mind.

We’ll help lead the way, if you’ll help by passing on good information that can bring VALUE to the lives of those we love and care about, and asking them to join us in tackling this pressing issue, by demanding different and new resolutions for the design & building world in the residential side of architecture and our built environments.  They should work better.  They CAN work better.  But we have to ASK for it.  DEMAND it.  A “new normal” is only created by NOT accepting the old school paradigms that are out of date, and don’t serve us as a public whole in an inclusive way.

Keep caring, keep sharing, and keep on keeping on… together we’ll get there!

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4 thoughts on “What if DESIGN is DISABLED, not PEOPLE?
  • very interesting article. I too believe in Universal Design and Age in Place. I am a volunteer citizen mbr of our city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (for over 8 years now). We are all differently-abled …. I have been dealing with some disabilities myself that have limited me from my “normal” job and have now just started a new job after years of not working.
    We need more people to get on board with this and for people to realize we all benefit. I really like seeing and hearing people from all over the globe making a difference and bringing these issues to the public. I also like to compare what other countries, even other provinces (I live in Canada) are doing.
    Kudos to you on a great article
    keep up the good work
    Carol-Ann Chafe

    • admin says:

      Hi Carol-Ann, Thank you so much for your comments and feedback. I appreciate your experience and what you bring to the conversation personally. That’s great that you are on the local advisory committee. Stay in touch, stay plugged in by signing up with our newsletter, and in the interest of it “taking a village” please do share our website with the friends and family that you know, love, and care about! If you have any organization that needs to hear the presentation in person we do travel to share our public presentation “The Aging In Place Phenomenon”, and can cater the message to suit any industry or trade group / association or public entity. Contact us at info@EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com. For more on Aging-In-Place you can visit our parent company website at http://www.ADM-architecture.com as well.

      Thanks! Keep caring, and keep sharing the message!

      Aaron D. Murphy, Managing Editor @ EtMM
      EMPOWERING “Aging In Place” for Baby Boomers & their families.
      Speaker, Educator, Radio Show Host – Consultant, Author, Mentor & Coach
      info@EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com http://www.EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com
      Ph: (360) 440-8475 Bainbridge Island, Wa. 98110
      Owner / Licensed Architect & “Certified Aging In Place Specialist”
      ADM Architecture – Poulsbo, Wa. 98370 http://www.ADM-architecture.com

  • In Bangalore India, we have designed and realised such a village. It is called SUVIDHA – it is for retirement of the elderly. Who have earned and now need to slow down and may require various factors of assistance to continue a meaningful life. This life to continue to their sundown.
    It is possible and essential that all the senses and physical and mental attributes are addressed such that the elements can be integrated in the function of living a easier and happier life.

    • admin says:

      Hi Krishna! Thanks so much for your comments and sharing of your own experiences from across the globe! Technology is great in that way. So please to hear about your SUVIDHA, do you have a URL link to a website or more information online about it? If you do, please share with us all! I totally agree that all the senses as well as the individual’s physical and mental attributes should and can be addressed for integration into a functional design solution for better living in the latter stages of life, hence our PASSION for “Empowering The Mature Mind”! Stay in touch, I’m truly intrigued to hear from someone so far away thinking the same way as we do here at EtMM and our parent company http://www.ADM-architecture.com

      Cheers and thanks again!

      Aaron D. Murphy, Managing Editor @ EtMM
      EMPOWERING “Aging In Place” for Baby Boomers & their families.
      Speaker, Educator, Radio Show Host – Consultant, Author, Mentor & Coach
      info@EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com http://www.EmpoweringTheMatureMind.com
      Ph: (360) 440-8475 Bainbridge Island, Wa. 98110
      Owner / Licensed Architect & “Certified Aging In Place Specialist”
      ADM Architecture – Poulsbo, Wa. 98370 http://www.ADM-architecture.com

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