I read an article yesterday poignantly titled “You Are Going to Die” by Tim Kreider on the Opinion Pages of The New York Times that makes some blunt and arguably necessary comments about age and our society. I bring this up because one of the things we talk about is how society needs to start viewing disability as a “universal human experience,” which is a point initially made by the World Health Organization within the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), which we fully embrace.
To put it simply, we’re all going to age, and with age often comes decrease of optimal body function. Nobody who has spent any time around the aging population can deny that. As our bodies wear out, there seems to be a social issue of categorizing the people with now less-than-perfect bodies as “disabled.” There’s a negative connotation to that word, and that category of people is often viewed as a “burden to society.” All of a sudden accessibility becomes a big deal, which is driven from an “us-versus-them” perspective of people who need accessible features and those who don’t.
Universal design, on the other hand, is a brilliant idea that completely blurs the us-versus-them line by optimizing accessibility and usability characteristics of literally anything – places, products, or programs – during early phases of design and creation.
I want you to read the following quotes from Mr. Kreider’s article and let them sink in. We can discuss them in the comments below.
“Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy of capitalism’s endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you’re well-educated or hip enough.”
Where are the old and the sick in our communities? Nursing homes, retirement communities, hospitals. If we’re honest with ourselves, do any of those places really excite us as our potential homes someday? Heck no.
“Aging and death are embarrassing medical conditions, like hemorrhoids or eczema, best kept out of sight. Survivors of serious illness or injuries have written that, once they were sick or disabled, they found themselves confined to a different world, a world of sick people, invisible to the rest of us.”
Folks, I broke my neck when I was 18 years old. Over 80 percent of my muscles stopped functioning normally in an instant. In that moment when I landed my head on the ground the wrong way, I was suddenly jolted into a new category in the majority of society’s eyes. But did I become a different person? Heck no.
“You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.”
This is reality. Deal with it, but don’t get all down about it. There are things we can do to lessen the blow of what lies ahead as our bodies age. And that, dear friends, is one of the significant driving forces behind what Sarah and I are working on doing by preaching universal design on this blog, in addition to why we’re offering our services as universal design consultants.
Boom. Let’s talk about your thoughts in the comments below.
(Photo Credit: algo via Flickr / Creative Commons)