Designing for elderly and handicapped

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We tend to take everyday living for granted. Simple tasks such as walking to your kitchen to grab a snack, getting comfortable on the couch for a movie or going to the toilet, are never given attention to. But, what if, you are unable to do these tasks? What if your house and your space isn’t favourableto help you in your daily life? Well, such is life for the elderly and handicapped in many parts of India. Imagine their distress when they are unable to perform everyday tasks with the same ease as us. But, furthermore, imagine when we ourselves get old, and find it impossible to do these things ourselves. Thus, it’s crucial to know and integrate interior design for the elderly and handicapped. Let’s discuss how.

Elderly people and objects for pensioners.Vector flat design icons
Elderly people and objects for pensioners.Vector flat design icons

1. UNDERSTANDING THEIR NEEDS:

As we age, a lot of our body parts respond slower. We have less stamina, more fatigue and unfortunately in some cases, a lot of disorders and disfunctions. But, not all elderly or handicapped deal with the same problems. In India, however, we tend to generalise these things and as a result we are not able to design well. For example, in malls, hospitals, public places, hotels and entertainment complexes provide ramps and rails and think that they have achieved handicap friendly design. The question is, is that enough? What about elderly with low eyesight? What about hearing disorders? What about when they can’t understand technology as fast and easily as we do? A common sight in Indian malls and cinema halls are a queue of old people awkwardly waiting for the escalator because they are too scared and uncomfortable to hop on one. Aren’t places like supermarkets and malls supposed to cater to everyone? Then why this glaring discrepancies in design?
The world’s older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Today, 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. According to a new report, “An Aging World: 2015 ,” this percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 percent of the world’s population by 2050 (1.6 billion). If such a huge chunk of population belongs to the senior citizens, we need to accommodate everyone and approach every design in a holistic way to achieve maximum outputs in all our spaces.
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2. ACTIVITIES FOR ELDERLY AND DISABLED:

It is time that we shun the cliches that define the elderly and restrict them in their hobbies and activities. Not all senior citizens enjoy knitting. Outdoor picnics and public benches are not the only places they want to be in. It is a shame that we are not tapping a huge population group and designing interesting spaces for them. The target audience for most places still remain kids, youngsters, college students, young couples and families. They usually take over the restaurants, arcades, malls, movie halls and in totality all public spaces. This is a problematic thought when you ponder, that when we get old, we won’t have any place to go to anymore. And that thought is disturbing.
Not just in public spaces like parks, gardens, lakes, beaches and urban infrastructure, even in commercial and entertainment zones we need to start actively thinking about incorporating interesting places for the elderly and handicapped. Special book stores, special screening areas for movies, plays and entertainment outlets, shopping complexes and interactive zones such as play areas, open gyms and exercise centres, places to gather such as clubs, hotels and cafes are the need of the hour.
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3. INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENTS:

How can spaces become more inclusive for everyone? Well, when we change our mentality. Only with a broader perspective of the world, can designers take a step towards creating more holistic spaces. Providing handles and bars and wheel chair turning radius in bathrooms, isn’t the only way to make elderly comfortable in our world. Focusing on their ideas of fun and moreover respecting the same can aid us to design more elderly centric areas where they find favourable conditions to enjoy the second innings of their lives.
Lakes, parks, safaris, beaches and other natural spaces should be made more accessible to the old. Home interiors as well as public buildings such as banks, supermarkets, malls and government buildings with frequent senior citizen visitors should be designed more and more to be comfortable and easy, not just with ramps and safety bars but also with better signages, more interactive and soothing materials and colors.
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4. FEW TIPS FOR INTERIOR DESIGN FOR THE ELDERLY AND HANDICAPPED:

  • a. Colors: As eyesight declines with age, colors and contrasts can be helpful to differentiate between spaces and assist them in day to day tasks. For example darker walls for a toilet with a white WC is a good tool in helping the old to identify the seat. Similarly, bright colors like red and orange in living spaces, makes one feel more energetic, whereas green and blue in bedrooms can induce peace and zen.
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  • b. Lighting: Well lit homes for the elderly are a must to avoid accidents and mishaps. Big windows for natural night, as well as soft glare less lights with unobstructive views are recommended for ideal situations.
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  • c. Doorways: Wide doorways with sufficient space for wheelchair access and turning, ramps in case required, lock and handle at appropriate height to help in opening even from a seated position, bio-lock or fingerprint access for additional security, peephole at sufficient height are some things to account for.
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  • d. Stairs: Vertical transition needs to be carefully designed when it comes to elderly and handicapped. It can be tricky as not all homes are big enough for a ramp access and not everyone can afford a lift or escalator. Providing safety bars, strong rails, appropriate riser height, wider treads, non slippery materials that provide good grip can be one solution. There are also provisions for mechanical seats with a pulley system which can make vertical transition easier.
  • e. Greens: As mentioned earlier, green has a calming effect. It can be incorporated more through fresh plants and landscape ideas. New life and something to take care of, gives old people something to look forward to and treasure.
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  • f. Purposeful living: Creating sources of joy and activity will go a long way in keeping good health. An aquarium, a herb garden, a card/game room, a small home gym or exercise area, a room full of colors for house parties and dinners, billiard room, library, home theatre, terrace or balcony garden with rocking chairs are some ways to introduce fun in the lives of the old.

Unfortunately in India, Old age is synonymous with inactive, sick or helplessness. It is time to change that perception, not just in our minds but also in our spaces. The places, architecture and interiors of a country reflect their thoughts on a lot of issues. Should India be a country which restricts their old only to old age homes? Is it fair to have to restrict our senior citizens to their bedrooms because they lack suitable outlets? We need to ask ourselves, when we reach the ripe age of 75, will safety bars and ramps be enough to support, entertain and excite us? Think about it.

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