Connecting to Your Grandparents
Glen Hougan, NSCAD University, Halifax, Canada
Design for an Aging Population is a new course offered at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University) in Halifax, Canada.i Midway through the course, teams of students were required to develop ‘aging suits’ that would simulate the physiological conditions associated with ageing. It was hoped that by developing these suits students would gain an understanding of the physical challenges older people may experience (i.e., mobility, strength, and vision loss). Up to that point, the class had researched the social, economic, psychological, and biological changes associated with aging and investigated elderly stereotypes and biases. After developing the ‘aging suit’ students would then conduct home assessments with their grandparents to identifying design issues and problems. The rationale for the research was that in order to design better products, the students first had to develop a less stereotypical understanding of the elderly experience.
I assumed by this point the students would be well sensitized to the issues of the elderly. But it was during the presentations of their ‘aging suits’ that I realized how ingrained ageism is within our society. One group wanted to present their suit wearing an ‘old man’ latex mask that one buys at a joke shop. Their explanation, in all seriousness, was that it enhanced the feeling of being elderly. Another group, using that same principle but a different tactic, incorporated movement restriction devices into clothes they perceived the elderly wear. Their version of what the elderly wear was a drab wrinkled oversized suit jacket and pants one finds in the far reaches of a thrift store.