As the Coronavirus slowly began to cripple the Hawaiian islands and we were all sheltered-in-place, I was reminded of the parallels of our sheltering in place to the daily challenges of the elderly and disabled.
Most of us go in and out of our homes several times a day without much thought that it is a privilege not available to everyone. And then one day, quickly and without much warning, we are told we cannot leave our houses except for essentials. We have a car and no place to go, beaches we cannot enjoy, a job that, unless we can perform virtually, may no longer exist. Now imagine a person who has this same experience every day because they are elderly or have suddenly become disabled.
As we struggle to conform to the new normal, we may become frustrated because many of our homes are not equipped with amenities that would make our shelter in place an easier transition. Maybe you have a small space and cannot store extra necessities or you have no office space but still have to perform work duties. These challenges, for many of us, are temporary and will end when we resume whatever will be the new normal. But until then, we are frustrated with our situation.
For extroverts, this new normal can be a struggle, both mentally and physically. They often thrive on human connection, interaction, movement and group activities. They enjoy having others over to visit. Their loneliness can lead to depression or a feeling almost worse than actually contracting the flu virus!
All of the above scenarios are very common amongst the aging and disabled demographics. Imagine some of the same situations only there is no end. Your car keys have been taken away permanently, you may have to move to a place that does not offer you the same comforts you currently have in home or, worse, you are at home and cannot work well within your confines. Now is the time to begin a conversation with yourself or significant others about aging in place. As a designer, my job is to take all these scenarios into consideration and design a space that has flexibility for hobbies or recreation, outdoor living spaces and bathrooms and kitchens with accessibility. Don’t wait until it’s too late and your shelter in place frustration is permanent.