Are We Locking out the Elderly From Our Facilities?

May 24, 2017

Architecture firm Perkins Eastman investigates how well we provide building access to an aging population. 

An estimated one in five people will be aged 65 or older by 2040. In less than 25 years, nearly a ¼ of the U.S. population will be faced with the physical limitations that come with aging, included but not limited to: reduction of mobility and dexterity, visual and hearing impairment, bone and muscle weakness, and immune and memory deterioration

The relationship between aging people and the facilities they exist in is, while commonly overlooked by designers and FMs alike, is thoroughly dissected in a white paper released by international design and architecture firm Perkins Eastman, entitled, Handle on Accessibility: Designing for a Future of Limited Mobility.

The report, conducted after a six-month-long, in-house exercise in which Perkins Eastman’s Chicago staff conducted various “empathy experiments,” by simulating tactile and sensory challenges encountered daily by seniors.

The challenges exist in accessibility. Something as common as operating a door handle is often overlooked and can function poorly for people who aren’t considered in its design, such as older people suffering from carpal tunnel or arthritis.

“As the U.S. population continues to age, [we as designers] have the opportunity to advance design through the re-working of overlooked elements of everyday life,” says Michael Schur AIA, LEED AP, and Joshua Bergman, authors of the whitepaper. “What we design ultimately lies in how well we understand the end-user and how well we are able to design for them.”

After the empathy experiments were conducted, solutions for new types of door handles started to come to fruition. The resulting six prototypes fall into three categories:

  1. Handles that adapted/evolved traditional handle forms (the “Seed” and “Twist” handles),
  2. Handles that rethought the handle form (the “Hand Hold” and “Loop” handles), and
  3. Handles that rethought how doors can be operated (the “Long” and “Crank” handles).

A Handle on Accessibility: Designing for a Future of Limited Mobility, co-authored by Associate Michael Schur AIA, LEED AP, and Joshua Bergman, is available for free download from the Perkins Eastman webpage.

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