COMMENTARY: It’s time to commit to age-friendly communities

Lillian Nakamura Maguire

Oct. 1 is the International Day of Older Persons. The theme this year is “Journey to Age Equality.”

In recognition of this day, the Whitehorse United Church has supported a proposal to work toward the goal to be older adult-friendly in all its activities, facilities and services. Committees are reviewing their activities using a checklist to help guide their work.

With our growing older population, the goal of an age-friendly community is one businesses, community groups, various levels of government and politicians vying for our votes would be wise to consider as well.

An age-friendly community is one “that supports the health, participation and security of all, regardless of age, including features such as the availability of different housing options and transportation options, neighbourhood walkability, access to services for older residents, safety and opportunities to engage in social and civic activities,” according to a June 2019 report from the national Forum of Ministers Responsible for Seniors.

Below are practical ways your business, community and recreational organizations, arts and educational institutions, churches and all governments can consider when providing age-friendly services, programs and activities.

Many of these are already being done and require no financial costs to organizations or businesses. Some will require longer-term planning and financial resources.

Accessible and Safe Facilities

Outdoors ensure that:

• Sidewalks and steps are free of ice, snow, wet leaves around your facility/business – snow is piled to avoid blocking wheelchairs or those getting out of cars

• Entrances are free of obstructions (e.g. sidewalk signs near entrance)

• Parking spaces and drop-off spots are clearly marked and accessible for people with mobility issues or special needs

• Parking lots and trails are well-lit

Indoors ensure that:

• Doors are wide enough for wheelchairs or walkers or scooters

• Ramps or lifts or elevators are available for those unable to climb stairs

• Rooms are clearly visible and marked with large print signage

• Signage and directions have words and symbols to bathrooms, meeting rooms, access to refreshments, use of elevators, etc.

• Bright lighting is available, especially in darker hallways and staircases

• Non-slip flooring and mats that are not tripping hazards

• Floor and aisles are free of clutter, flooring is smooth and even

• Chairs are available near entrance or where people may need to rest if they are unable to stand for long (e.g. lineup, at staircase)

• Sturdy handrails available on stairways

• Accessible public washrooms that are easy to locate

• Spacious rooms that allow for easy mobility for wheelchairs, walkers or scooters

Communications for Visibility and Clarity

Ensure that:

• Presenters speak clearly and at an appropriate speed, while looking directly at the person

• A good sound system is available for group gatherings and microphones are used for audience/speaker discussions

• Trained staff and volunteers are available to assist people with vision or hearing challenges or in managing situations such as a fall or a confused person, while preserving the person’s dignity

• Signs, pamphlets or other reading materials are readable – with clear colour contrasts and large print size

• There is no loud background noise as this can be distracting and uncomfortable for those with hearing challenges or hearing aids

• Websites are easy to navigate and people are able to enlarge the font

• People are able to access information in a format they prefer – print, radio, community TV, accessible format for those with hearing or vision loss

• Emergency planning takes into account the capabilities and vulnerabilities of older adults/people with dementia

Programs and Services

Ensure that:

• Older adults are included as full partners in community decision-making affecting them – input into programs, events and services

• Events are held at times and places that are safe, convenient, accessible, affordable and close to bus transportation

• Activities bring together different generations and encourage interaction

• Older adults are invited to be on committees or advisory groups to show you value their skills and knowledge

• Quiet space is offered for rest breaks from a busy and long meeting

• If requested, a support person is allowed to accompany the older person

There are many other tips for businesses and organizations when planning meetings and other programing. Various reports with advice are available on both the federal and territorial governments’ websites.

On International Day of Older Persons Oct. 1st, take time to consider what opportunities are available for you or your organization to utilize the talents of older people and to support them in being fully engaged in our communities.

The Yukon is one of few jurisdictions not endorsing age-friendly communities. It is time to make a commitment to this goal.

Lillian Nakamura Maguire is a Whitehorse resident, retired older adult and member of the Whitehorse United Church