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Ageism and Privilege

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For the third time in as many months, I took my mom out to enjoy a live show.  The first show was at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, the second at the new Little Caesar’s Arena (LCA), and the third one was at Flint’s Capitol Theatre.  Constructed in the 1920s, the Masonic Temple and the Capitol Theatre are reminders of an age when cities erected large, performing arts venues themed after grand, European architecture styles.  The LCA, built only a few years ago, boasts an innovative, modern design with many amenities.  While all three have aesthetics one might appreciate, they pose logistical challenges for older people and those with disabilities.

In her nineties, my mom is in excellent health.  However, I’ve noticed that over the last few years, she has started to walk slower and is a little less steady on her feet.  Planning accordingly, I arrived early at each venue to give us time to get settled. However, in each instance, I found limited accessibility options for people who have mobility challenges.

For instance, the event at the Masonic Temple indicated that doors opened at 7:00 pm.  In reality, the auditorium didn’t allow patrons to enter until 7:30 (the event started at 8:00), and people stood in the cold waiting to get inside.  After getting inside the lobby, there was another 30-minute wait before they allowed people to enter the auditorium.  With few places to sit, my mom stood an hour before she could rest.  I noticed others with canes and walkers also standing.

Built before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Masonic Temple is not an age-friendly venue.  Once inside of the theater, there were other barriers – such as low lighting that did not illuminate the sloped floors, uneven carpeting, and narrow spaces between rows that required you to sidle sideways to squeeze by already seated patrons.

On the other hand, the LCA is ADA compliant, but it still posed some accessibility challenges.  For instance, it is not possible to drop someone off near the entrance because of the traffic barriers that the city has installed to keep the Q-line free of congestion.  The closest parking garage (which costs $30!) connects to the LCA, but it is a long walk for anyone, let alone someone who needs accommodations.

Once inside the arena, you can move between floors on an elevator, but steep stairs to the stadium seating were another obstacle to navigate.  Flint’s Capitol Theatre also had accessibility barriers – no elevator to access the balcony, and steep stairs to descend to get to seating.

Typically, I wouldn’t have thought twice about these issues, but having my mother with me caused me to be hyper-aware.  While some of the concerns that I raise may be unavoidable (e.g., stadium stairs), I still wondered whether more could have been done to improve accessibility.  These experiences also made me realize my own privilege.  Other than the recovery period after my knee surgery, I’ve never worried about accessibility issues.  Walking too far or standing for long periods isn’t an issue for me right now, but one day that may change.

Given that in just a few years, our senior population will swell to where there are more people who are 60 years and older than those who are under 18, developers, city planners, and other decision-makers must think about how to make communities work well for people from the ages of two to 92.  If they don’t, there will be a lot of us on the outside who are looking in.

– By Vincent Tilford, Executive Director

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Hannan Center

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9 comments
  • Sandra Langford
    REPLY

    Hello Vincent!

    I truly enjoyed your article on, “Ageism and Privilege!” I think we all should concern ourselves with accessibility issues, as you stated, perhaps it’s a surgery that renders one disabled, or maybe it’s age, regardless, shouldn’t everyone have access to public and cultural events? My husband is a veteran who has trouble walking, and because of this, he can no longer enjoy many of the art fairs and outdoor activities we have enjoyed in the past, my brother had a stroke, and even though he can walk, he can’t climb stairs. What type of society discounts and ignores the whole of its’ citizens, we have got to do better! More signage, golf carts, elevators, scooters…. at these events would surely help, in-fact many of these events are attended by older adults and very few younger people; it’s time that we take a real serious look at making these evets available to all! Thank you for your thoughtful artical, and tell your mom to, “keep it moving!” You are indeed a great son!

  • Onorio Catenacci
    REPLY

    Great observation, we have much to learn from our seniors …more thoughtful consideration is due.
    Like special times for entry , seating preferences, etc.
    I do know that the opportunity to interact, to listen …once gone is lost forever. It’s good you are taking advantage.
    Onorio Catenacci

  • Melody Magee
    REPLY

    Thank You so very much for writing this article. I also taken my 88 yrs old Dad to the LCA for a game. Although, he had a great time we had to walk over 6 blocks to get in the front door due to the $45 parking. I will definitely like to talk to you further about accessibility for Seniors and those with a disability. email: careersfocus@aol.com.

  • Sylvia Leavell
    REPLY

    This is an example of the lack of consideration, critical thinking and concern for those with special needs. Venues need to be made aware of the needs of their constituents.
    Not only are the aged challenged, but also those who have disabilities. This should be brought to the attention of the owners and those who promote events
    at this and other venues. PL94-142 is in violation and there should be some follow-through by those who are responsible for enforcing this Federal Law.

    Persons with mobility problems should be provided special access. We must demand that this Federal Law be enforced. I work with Special Needs children
    and often have to advocate for preferential seating (deaf and visually impaired). Please pursue this issue with those organizations responsible for enforcement,
    so that it does not continue to impact our special needs population.

  • Mame Jackson
    REPLY

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. You provide helpful personal observations and good analysis of the difficulties that seniors and others with physical limitations often encounter in public spaces. Your point about the need for developers, city planners, and other decision-makers (I’d include industrial designers as well) to be sensitive to these needs in designing inclusive public space is very important.

    I wonder if the Hannan Center might even play a role in such planning and thinking — e.g., perhaps by establishing a sort of participatory “think tank” or hosting occasional “focus groups” enabling interested seniors to meet with city planners and others to evaluate plans at various stages from the perspective of their own age-related experiences and desires. Ideally, a city should provide for safety, accessibility, and inclusivity (say, ages 2 to 102) in its public spaces. In this connection, I personally question what seems currently to be a popular civic planning model of building large, attractive pedestrian malls, separated from distant parking areas and public transportation (a plan that can be very pleasant for the able-bodied but make it difficult or even unsafe or impossible for people with mobility challenges or who need to walk slowly and rest from time to time to even get to and enjoy these grand public spaces).

    I think this is an issue of environmental equity — as it plays out in public spaces with attention to the needs of an aging population. Designers and planners need just the kind of input you provided — and they need it on a regular basis from those most qualified to give it — i.e., from engaged seniors, whose experience can help to identify and, perhaps even, to creatively and collaboratively solve environmental problems in the public space.

  • Deborah Brown
    REPLY

    I experienced a similar situation when taking my 92 year old mom to the Detroit Jazz Festival last year. There is no signage or volunteers in the know to direct or accommodate those with physical disabilities. When a rain storm was fast approaching, not one volunteer could provide helpful information to help me get my mom to a safe space.

  • Peggy J Terry
    REPLY

    I agree with your findings. As an 89 year old woman who hesitate to attend many events due to parking (distance), stairs and seating – I miss out on programs that interest me. First hand viewing is important to me , however being on-site is a drawback. Don’t forget the distance to restrooms. Many obstacles to overcome.

  • June Mack
    REPLY

    I too think of the coming future for myself. Society is not putting people like me in their thoughts. Or should I say, not thinking enough about people that are in their older years.

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