I found ‘Making our Communities Ready for Ageing’ a comprehensive, compassionate and optimistic document; optimistic in that it assumes government is willing to fund the items and allow departments to cross subsidise each other.
It is clear to me unless we can demonstrate the value to society of giving older people inclusion and thus the chance to contribute, funds will not be found for the very correct and desirable recommendations in this report.
Earlier this year the Chartered Institute of Transport (CILT) held a seminar on “Making Sense of the Costs and Benefits of Travel” and as the Chairman of the Accessibility and Inclusion Forum and an Octogenarian who has spent many years as a Transport professional, I was privileged to set the scene “through older eyes”. There are factors which prevent older people from travelling and joining in society with confidence. Only by recognising these factors can the substantial and rising segment of the market be reached.
So what do we mean by “through older eyes”? As you get older your perspective changes, your confidence is sometimes challenged and many things that seemed sensible suddenly become less so. You start to say to yourself “surely they can see if it is easier for me it will be easier for everybody”.
It has to be made simple because if it is all too difficult you feel, maybe wrongly, that nobody cares and think why go out anyway and instead start snoozing in front of daytime TV. It is the route to poor health, poor diet and then older people do become a cost instead of the asset they really are.
What makes the subject more complex is that we are not all impaired by the ageing process, although our hearing is often not so acute and we may have visual impairment. It is a variable differing with different people, making solutions equally challenging.
There are several key items of importance to the older traveller. We are more prone to fall, therefore aspects like signing and location of that signing is very important. If you put them on top of an escalator so we have to look sideways at the sign as we step off, then that is the place where falls are likely. I am not denying that where you change direction is where you need signs, but it needs examining.
Similarly toilets and the provision thereof, to say nothing of the signs how to find them, becomes increasingly important as you grow older. In reality current information on facilities, for example whether a lift is working or indeed if the toilets are working, is more important to older people. It is almost more important than whether services are working, if there is a delay before the bus arrives that is a nuisance but a nuisance suffered by all. If the toilets are shut it is a nuisance to some but can be a disaster for older people!
Vulnerability and the fear around safety increases with age and loss of agility, in essence we cannot even run away! Plus we are often put off by things that would not put others off, for example no lighting or no obvious security. Certainly an absence of staff for the CCTV does not give us the assurance it may give other segments of society and perhaps we have less understanding of it, but real or imagined safety is key if older people are to be encouraged to travel.
What one is strong in dealing with in midlife fades sometimes with age, the brain is engaged but the confidence has diminished. “Where did I put my ticket”, “what did I do with my case” – these become big problems with age.
Bending down is difficult when we drop something, and we drop things more frequently as we get old!
We do not want to be ignored and sometimes older people can be invisible to the young. This invisibility is disquieting. We require normality combined with dignity, we have normal feelings, we may be 75+ but we still fancy each other. Normality is important.
It is often not those of us with severe conditions that have problems, because often those people are looked after, it is those without noticeable disadvantages; those that tire on a longish walk (a mile walk from the airplane to the centre of Heathrow, and not a seat to sit on en route), have difficulty putting our shoes back on at security and cannot negotiate very steep steps.
The old have a tendency to go on and on so I will finish this comment by saying: Older people can be easily offended, they can misunderstand an acronym, although not clinically deaf can mishear and are less manoeuvrable. Furthermore they cannot multi task easily and when travelling are often sole minded on that and that alone.
Older people value their dignity and are infuriated if patronised, they should not be encouraged to run and are sometimes apprehensive in crowds and need evidence that they are in a safe environment.
Computers and IT generally needs to be as simple as possible as many older people struggle with that. Ticket automation being one such.
Despite these ageing factors remember older people want to be of value, want to contribute but they can only be of value to themselves and to society if they have inclusion. It is important to recognise that by understanding older people’s fears and problems a better transport service and infrastructure is provided. Provided older people receive inclusion, we are not tomorrow’s problem but part of tomorrow’s solution.
You can download a copy of the ‘Making our Communities Ready for Ageing Report’ here