Roll Up Those Sleeves: Implementing an Age and Disability Friendly Initiative

This past January, we wrapped up the first year of a three year implementation cycle with the Age and Disability Friendly initiative. After an incredibly rewarding and challenging year long needs assessment process, which included:

  • coordinating over 20 professionals, experts, and community members

  • across eight domains,

  • while also conducting dozens of interviews,

  • reviewing hundreds of reports, research, and topic related analysis,

  • All synthesized into informative and action oriented, domain specific memos

(Phew! Even typing that made me tired)

We landed on 224 recommendations that would need to be implemented within three years.

May I add that this effort has zero designated funding and one part-time staff support?! More on funding later.

Let’s just pause here. Yes, I said 224 recommendations. Welp! For anyone who is committed and passionate about supporting community based processes, this should not be shocking. In fact, perhaps it can even be seen as a sign of success – that those memos did a great job of informing our team of the gaps and assets and folks were motivated about seeing change.

However, as the (ahem, part-time, at least on paper) project manager responsible for ensuring both implementation and evaluation, I needed to help develop a matrix that would allow the group to prioritize the recommendations as objectively as possible. After much research, I settled on some key components like whether the recommendation addresses an actual gap, if the recommendation has clear next steps or partners, a balance of both short term and relatively easy recommendations as well as long-term and heavy lift recommendations, etc. All key components to anyone who’s familiar with community development practices, which were the models that I mostly focused on in building a strategy.

With that in mind, I worked really hard with our team to identify those measures and draft rough goals that would allow the team to prioritize, and ultimately vote, on the recommendations, hopefully ending with a more realistic number. As messy as it felt at times, it was a huge success – folks felt really engaged, took the process very seriously, and when we walked away, we settled on a final count of 24 recommendations. Hooray! Still a bold Action Plan for sure but at least that was a number I can wrap my arms around.

And here’s the best part – all of the projects are incredibly exciting! This work is essentially applying an accessibility and inclusivity lens to citywide policies, practices, programs, and funding priorities and the resulting recommendations represent that. This past year, I’ve been able to delve into countless planning and community realms, areas that I would never have had the opportunity to explore if I was working only on housing or economic development. As an obsessively nosy generalist, this has truly been a fantastic opportunity. Ever wonder why the sidewalks suck? I know all about the legal aspects, alternatives to, and bureaucracy around sidewalk repair. Does Paratransit drive you nuts? Well, here are five things having a direct impact on the service that you may not be familiar with. Does the housing crisis keep you up at night? Oh lordy, don’t even get me started on that – how much time do you have for that one?

Now, if only I could find the happy hour trivia for nerdy urban planners, I would clean up.

For example, here are some of the projects that we’re working on:

  • Brainstorming how Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) can be an accessible, affordable, and feasible option for older adults (particularly as a resource for informal family caregivers, of which there are a lot!);
  • How to improve digital equity such as creating a pilot start-up program, programs aimed at increasing digital literacy and providing low cost IT support;
  • Developing and then institutionalizing an ableism and ageism training for healthcare professionals (particularly doctors!);
  • Ensuring the accessibility of voting technology and addressing the low voter turnout for people with disabilities;
  • Conducting research and developing recommendations to address the decline of assisted living facilities, recognizing that they’re a critical housing option; and
  • Supporting the successful local implementation of SB 1376, which requires accessible accommodations of transportation network companies (Lyfts, Ubers, etc.)

I could go on and on, obviously, but will stop there. Let me just wrap this up by saying, one of the great strengths of developing an Age and Disability Friendly planning initiative is that it has the potential to work across silos, resulting in unlikely partners collaborating on projects, policies or practices that never would have before. This partnership builds capacity, is cost effective, leverages existing resources, and adds significantly more value to the work than the minimal staff time or knowledge that goes into it.

As we go on, I intend to highlight more specific examples, to make the case that adding an aging and disability perspective to planning work is an obvious win/win, not unlike considering sustainability, walkability, or the economic impact.

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Age Friendly City

Ensuring cities are built for everyone