October 04, 2007

Boomers: A Generation Discovers Universal Design, Inclusive Travel, & Livable Communities

The United States lives in a fog of denial about the coming population inversion. When the fog burns off the slow, steady adoption of Universal Design best practices that we have been documenting in the housing, leisure, hospitality, and development fields will catch the inattentive by surprise.

MONEY magazine published survey results this week on the next wave of "future shock". Almost 3,000 Boomers participated in the survey (Forever Young) conducted to examine their attitudes and its potential social impact.

Boomers are starting to form a new agenda, a reinvention of the American dream that emphasizes friends and family over making money, having fun over working hard, and making a difference in the community and the said MONEY's Marlys Harris in her article on the survey. The study shows that 63% of participants said their definition of success has changed since their late teens and early twenties. Living independently and maintaining health are the top two goals of Boomers.

"Living independently" has been the objective of the Disability Rights Movement (a baby Boomer generation phenomenon) as it created the Independent Living Movement and networks of Independent Living Centers (CILs) :

Independent Living Centers are typically non-residential, private, non-profit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities. Their goal is to assist individuals with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential within their families and communities.

Also, Independent Living Centers serve as a strong advocacy voice on a wide range of national, state and local issues.

New configurations of services for older adults imitate what CILs have refined over decades while younger people with disabilities have been "beta testers for aging." Comprehensive regional planning approaches such as the National Council on Disability's Livable Communities for Adults with Disabilities and WHO's Age-friendly Cities Initiative address at a macro level what home builders and remodelers know at the local level -- lifespan planning may not have been a priority for Boomers in their financing of retirement but it has certainly begun to catch on in home (re)design.

However, there is a confrontation with destiny facing any Boomer who holds unrealistic expectations of "maintaining health." (A 2006 AARP poll found that half of Boomers surveyed complain of some degree of hearing loss, but only one in four have seen a doctor about it.)

Here again, the disability community has been at the forefront of providing expectation management. It rejected the medicalization and personalization of disability -- that inevitable companion of aging -- in order to guarantee the generations' first goal of "living independently." It formulated the "social model of disability" as a means to locate the causes of handicap in the lack of social accommodation rather than as an inevitability of difference ("Anatomy is not destiny!"). Thinking has further progressed to include the definition of disability now proposed by the World Health Organization:

The way disability is defined and understood has also changed in the last decade. Disability was once assumed as a way to characterize a particular set of largely stable limitations. Now the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved toward a new international classification system, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF 2001). It emphasizes functional status over diagnoses. The new system is not just about people with traditionally acknowledged disabilities diagnostically categorized but about all people. For the first time, the ICF also calls for the elimination of distinctions, explicitly or implicitly, between health conditions that are 'mental' or 'physical.'

The new ICF focuses on analyzing the relationship between capacity and performance. If capacity is greater than performance then that gap should be addressed through both removing barriers and identifying facilitators. The new WHO ICF specifically references Universal Design as a central concept that can serve to identify facilitators that can benefit all people.

The WHO defines disability as a contextual variable, dynamic over time and in relation to circumstances. One is more or less disabled based on the interaction between the person and the individual, institutional and social environments. The ICF also acknowledges that the prevalence of disability corresponds to social and economic status. The 2001 ICF provides a platform that supports Universal Design as an international priority for reducing the experience of disability and enhancing everyone's experience and performance.

The convergence of Boomer idealism and the legacies of the disability movement's social transformation tradition promises exiting times in the very near future. The travel & hospitality industry is already experiencing the benefit. Watch the trends:

So will the future find boomers shooting Colorado River rapids and hiking through the Mombacho cloud forest? Some will, but don't bet on it, says Edward Kerschner, author of "The Next American Dream," a 2004 study of boomers for Smith Barney and Citigroup Global Markets. He describes boomers as "lazily active." They enjoy walking but not running; going on cruises but not swimming; and going for a drive instead of hiking.

More on Universal Design:

The TOMAR Resolution

Posted by rollingrains at October 4, 2007 08:21 PM