Public spaces should be accessible to all, says expert

The requirements of older people need to be given more attention when creating accessible environments, an expert tells CCR.

The requirements of older people need to be given more attention when creating accessible environments, an expert has told Community Care Review.

“You need to take into consideration the needs of all ages including the needs of older people to create environments that are accessible [and] that take into consideration that some people might have sensory deficits or cognitive deficits. So you need spaces that are accessible, welcoming, inviting, easy to navigate, and enjoyable,” said Associate Professor Frances Batchelor – divisional director of clinical gerontology at the National Ageing Research Institute.

Associate Professor Frances Batchelor

For example, entries to buildings should include ramps and steps with sharp contrast. “These are all good principles that support accessibility,” said Associate Professor Batchelor.

But she told CCR that we also need to think about the environment within. “So in buildings, having great signage that’s easy to understand and includes people who don’t speak English as their first language; and signage at an appropriate height so that older people who may have restrictions in their neck movements don’t have to look up,” said Associate Professor Batchelor.

“You also need to take into consideration the size of fonts or images so that it makes it easier for older people. And to think about things like wayfindings that make the most sense to people and are not confusing.”

Associate Professor Batchelor spoke with CCR ahead of the annual conference of the Australian Association of Gerontology, where she will participate in a panel discussion entitled Creating Age-Friendly Places for All.

While Australia is behind the ball in this area when compared to some European countries, Associate Professor Batchelor – who has a research interest in falls prevention – said we are making some progress in the form of seniors’ exercise parks.

“These are special parks that allow older people the opportunity to have fun but also to exercise to improve their strength, balance, walking and agility. That’s a relatively new thing in Australia but is quite common in other countries such as Germany and in Scandinavia.”

But generally, Associate Professor Batchelor told CCR Australia could do a lot more. “We can recognise that older people use a lot of different spaces including places like hospitals and shopping centres; they’re out-and-about in the community. And there’s been a focus on accessibility for disability, and sometimes a focus on making spaces dementia friendly. But we can bring everything together and improve the environment for older people as a cohort.”

The AAG Conference runs 14 – 17 November at The Star, Gold Coast in Queensland.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG

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