A handy guide to help me (and you!) navigate the confusing world of inclusive design in practice, courtesy of my nan.
Read time: 4 minutes
Oh my goodness, this week the reality and stress of this endeavour has really kicked in…and it is only part 4! Nothing is easy! Every step of the way, I am finding I am having to fight myself to stay on track and not to just install the standard, quickest or nicest-looking option.
I want a suction grab rail, you have to order it from the USA. I want a good-looking bath step, it has been withdrawn from sale. I want a TV cabinet that you don’t have to bend down to reach. Nope. You want a simple microwave that doesn’t look like the Mir space station. Sorry. You may think this is want want want, and me being fussy, but is it really so much to ask when we have an ageing population combined with a simply staggering amount of gorgeous homewares on the market, can’t just a few bits be more inclusive, please?
What is going on here world?? People want to make good choices about their homes so they can grow old there but there just aren’t the products available, the information to help weigh your choices or anything remotely inspirational that is actually relatable or replicable in the real world. The time it takes to investigate functional, beautiful, affordable stuff properly is mind-blowing. No wonder no one bothers. Are you actively trying to make it hard for people to make some simple improvements themselves, so health and social care systems are put under strain as a result later? It certainly seems so.
So, to keep me on track I have developed a cunning tool – a quick buyer’s guide to inclusive design, if you will.
I call it (drumroll please) “Could my gran use it?”
Stay with me… I’ll explain. But first up, a disclaimer:
I use my nan for this exercise but you can use your very own older person. If you don’t have your own older person then you can use mine. She does not mind. She is a wonderful warm and funny lady and is pleased to help.
Here she is in disguise!
You will also need to know she has arthritis, dementia, knees that creak audibly when she stands up (which is slow and arduous), shuffles slowly with a walking frame, can no longer manage stairs and is turning 99 this month. Until very recently she was living in her own home too (though with lots of help from kind people, it must be said).
It also relies on deliberately crude stereotypes and assumptions about capability, I am quite aware, but for the purposes of this exercise, it acts as a surprisingly effective way of narrowing down products into broadly inclusive or exclusive and of getting people thinking about how design decisions can either help or hinder us. It is also quite fun while wandering around beautiful homeware shops (mostly because it becomes laughable how few things fit the bill), but imagining my nan getting into a roll top bath makes me giggle (she would too!).
I am not belittling people’s struggles – this stuff is not a little game for a lot of people – it’s a very big deal and and an everyday reality where they can actually be disabled or enabled by a design choice. Nor am I advocating the burning of all deep baths, beanbags, tight jam jar lids and fiddly buttons. No one size fits all and home decor is all about expressing yourself; I’m just asking for more choice. At the moment, it seems like the only choice available is between something beautiful but not very accessible, or functional but ugly. Where is all the fun stuff in between? Surely as well as an artistic dreamland this is a financial goldmine for companies? So why is it currently a wasteland?
Right, disclaimer over, how does it work?
Well, every time I come to make a choice about something for my home now, I simply imagine my nan trying to use it and ask myself whether she would struggle with it and, if so, is there another option available that suits us both instead? That’s it! Truly revolutionary I know! A few examples to get you going: A low chair without arms to push herself back up: perhaps not. A walk-in shower: easy. A heavy door: unlikely. An Oxo Pop storage jar: lovely. It’s not exactly 100% watertight as a scientific method I’ll admit, but if you make somewhere function well for an older person (even if they are not the primary user) you tend to make it function better for a whole lot of other people too.
Now you try! Next time you’re out shopping have a go. Ask yourself, “Could my gran use it?”. If the answer is yes, that’s great! If the answer is doubtful, that’s totally fine too – buy whatever it is you want to buy because it makes you smile in your home – just as long as you purchase that item knowing it might not be suitable for everyone or forever. Either way, I guarantee it will give you a giggle when you imagine my nan beached in a beanbag.
More of my adventures (AKA frustrations!) coming soon! Please let me know if you have faced similar issues when trying to make adaptations to your own home. Please especially get in touch if you have any hints or hot tips to help me!! Thanks for reading and feel free to share my buyer’s guide with anyone who might find it helpful. My nan is happy for you to do this too 🙂