K. Julian, J. Abdelnour

What does it mean to grow old? There is something mysterious and psychologically disturbing about aging. Aging is the long gradual on-ramp to our own demise and it creates uncomfortable feelings from the start. This discomfort makes it hard to decide if aging should be considered the “natural process” to be accepted with grace, or the “disease process” to be attacked by every resource in modern medicine. Our varied efforts to cope with aging reflect mixed emotions. We claim to honor and respect our elders and we celebrate the discovery of drugs, like those to help osteoporosis. However, at the same time cosmetic deception is booming with face-lifts, tummy tucks, hair transplants and liposuction. The number one question for all of us is how do we want society to accommodate us as we age? What responsibility does the government have to care for its aging citizens? What responsibility do we have for one another? Are we ready to design interiors that satisfy the elderly’s human senses, reinforces their strengths and minimizes their frailties? “The first step is to acknowledge the fear that exists when hiring people with disabilities and to try to work through whatever obstacles employers may perceive in relation to disability” [1]. Oftentimes as faculty, it is suggested that we address diversity in the curriculum. Given these perceptions, perhaps it is time to consider disability as a part of our diversity agenda rather than a separate matter.

The physical differences of the graying market represent accessibility issues that could affect individuals of any age. Mobility difficulties resulting from arthritis in the aging could also create challenges to a young person on crutches or a child with orthopedic problems. When the interior environment is designed to accommodate the needs of the graying generation, the design will fulfill the needs of nearly everyone in the general population. To this purpose, students were assigned a series of exercises addressing disability and cultural diversity that were designed to provide students with a more objective view regarding accessibility and the “designing for all” concept. They were randomly paired with another classmate and a team and were required to schedule a date and time to “check out” a wheelchair as well as other simulating devices. Physical as well as behavioral observations were required. Each team member was required to type a two to three page analysis of what they learned from the project experience and include how they would incorporate this experience into future design solutions. Outcome summary for students revealed a new perspective on disability, cultural perception and how individuals with disabilities or who are considered “different” are treated. The exercise transformed the students’ approach to the ideology and scope of their designs.

[1] Ketter, Paula. (2013). " Changing Attitudes: Recognizing Abilities of People with Disabilities.” The Public Manager, 15 June 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2014.