The provocateur speaking… What if universal design prevents a very important part of life, that of connecting with our elders. The ideal is ongoing independence, and it is voiced most strongly by those who will retire soon, but what if we are too successful? What if old age becomes just older versions of middle age?
For many, retirement is a lot different today than years ago. It’s no longer a few years to live; it can be as many as twenty or thirty! It’s no longer a rocking chair; it’s life full on! Thousands in savings once looked good; today that’s a joke. And then medical costs? Can you see where this is going? There won’t be any retirement – you’re gonna keep working, the daily grind all the way to the bitter end.
If we build a society that values our elders only as older versions of ourselves, what have we done with their wisdom, their accumulated knowledge? Instead of being tended to, cared for and respected, they’re on the same mouse wheel we are! Dependence has become a dirty word; independence rules the day.
A huge evolutionary step took place when we lived old enough to have three generations alive at the same time. This makes sense. Knowledge didn’t die off as readily, there was a new opportunity for a grandparent to impart knowledge to a grandchild. This new bond leapt over a generation; it extended and expanded our human capacity to grow, to evolve. If evolution made such a leap with this added generation, might we not be loosing something by creating a society that diminishes or undervalues this meaningful role of our elders?
Clearly universal design isn’t at fault, nor should it be abolished. But perhaps the forces of our independence driven society need a wider look, a more inclusive consideration of the role and value of elders in our social fabric.