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Why Aren’t Public Spaces In India Designed To Make Life Easier Or Fun For Our Senior Citizens?

Our ideas about senior citizens are outdated. We have no concept of independent, outgoing seniors who might want to do things by themselves or enjoy life.

Why is the design of public spaces so elder-unfriendly? Or, for that matter any experience touch point for the aged. Are senior citizens so invisible from our radar that they don’t matter?

At a well known property where there was a recent gathering of many aged, differently- abled people, several accidents were waiting to occur. The distance from the dining to the room elevator required one to come out of the property under open air. It was hard to navigate the path in pitch darkness with lighting that was kept dim only for aesthetics. The staircase at another end of the property had no railings! The banister had been replaced by potted plants. Even signages were confusing!

Instead, there were installations, manicured lawns, statues, expensive lighting etc etc. So, no problem with budgets evidently!

Coming to the design of menus in restaurants etc. Everywhere there are kids’ menus, vegan menus, diabetic-friendly low carb, gluten-free…but a simple no-chilly, no-spicy menu that older people feel comfortable with never found.

Is it because Indians expect their elders to “retire” from all activity?

An insight that is relevant here is that independent, outgoing seniors aren’t a concept we understand as a culture. We presume they lose all their autonomy when old, and will be accompanied by family always.

It’s the outlook that needs addressing before design. At clinics, elder patients are ignored or patronised. Conversations will be addressed only to the younger attendant.

Speaking of Experience Design, travel tours for elders are designed to be more religious. Another presumption. There is the obligatory temple visit even if the holiday isn’t a pilgrimage. This is awful for sporty, culturally-rich, curious people who refuse to be bundled off into a Kashi-package. They have too much of living to do!

We design everything for the young

Elder facilities are consolidated in spaces such as posh “retirement” (there is no such thing) condos that have become popular these days. But why not make any space inclusive with thoughtful design? With the increasing number of men and women who are single by choice, aging in the next couple of decades, but living rich, fulfilled lives – these are questions for design practices to consider.

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Yes, we are young, demographically. That 75% population is under 35 years is a stat lapped up by marketers. Everything is marketed to the young and upwardly mobile (think of the annoying 30-under-30 listicles).

But, so much is changing culturally with life expectancy, gender role redefinition, and living life to the fullest – that design must raise the bar for the next set of seniors-to-be.

Image source: a still from the film Life in a Metro

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About the Author

Aparna Raman

Aparna Raman is a design educator and practitioner at the Srishti Manipal Institute Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore. She is also the founder of Timbuktoo, a platform for creative writing and publishing books by kids read more...

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