By Sean Meyer/London Community News
The question of whether London is an age-friendly city is one that has been discussed for years, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has now given a checklist to determining that answer.
The checklist developed by the WHO recommends a variety of indicators it says are keys to creating an age-friendly city. Those indicators include items such as pedestrian crossings, public signage, accessibility, transportation options, affordable housing and a range of health and community services.
Bev Regan and Ron McNish are two such people. Regan is a therapeutic recreation specialist with Third Age Outreach, a program of St. Joseph’s Health Care London that has, for over 20 years, offered specialized programs and services for London seniors. McNish is executive director of Over 55 London Inc., which for over 26 years has assisted older adults in finding meaningful employment opportunities.
The pair recently commented on the WHO criteria and how London does in each category, giving the city a grade of B plus for its efforts.
“We are heading in the right direction. I think we do have room to grow,” Regan said. “There are over 100 people involved in that. There is a three-year action plan that is being developed. I am finding (the biggest part of) being part of this task force is educating people about what we are already doing.”
McNish agreed it is important to tell older adults about the programs and services that London is really, in his mind, at the forefront of when it comes to creating an age-friendly city.
“I think we are on the leading edge, I really do. I think London is taking the bull by the horns and going forward with this. And kudos to the city,” McNish said. “So I would have given London eight out of 10. We are doing things that other cities really aren’t doing. What more can you ask?”
The following is a summation of how Regan and McNish feel the city scores under a several examples of the WHO criteria.
— Pedestrian crossings are sufficient in number and safe for people with different levels and types of disability, with non-slip markings, visual and audio cues and adequate crossing times.
Regan: The audible crosswalks have been really good; the timed crosswalks are helpful. But we probably don’t have enough crossings.
McNish: I think it is getting there in terms of numbers. Not sure about the non-slip, there are grooves they have cut in, whether than helps or not, maybe it gives them a little help.
— Buildings are well signed outside and inside, with sufficient seating and toilets, accessible elevators, ramps, railings and stairs, and non-slip floors.
Regan: It’s a work in progress, I think in general. With the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, they are mandated that new buildings or major renovations have to keep to the new code.
McNish: I think if the need is there, and it is addressed to the city, they do look quickly at it. It is just a long haul. And it isn’t just for older adults. There are disabilities out there whether you are 10 years old or 100 years old.
— Priority parking and drop-off spots for people with special needs are available and respected.
Regan: It is a courtesy thing. There are so many people who take those disability spots who shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be up to an enforcement officer. People should be more willing to speak up.
McNish: I think we have, but it needs to be enforced. Really enforced, not just paid lip service. When someone runs into Loblaws, and they pull into a (disabled) spot because they are ‘in a hurry,’ it is frustrating. It’s a me-first society.
— Home modification options and supplies are available and affordable and providers understand the needs of older people.
Regan: They accept it until something happens. But not before then. Had they taken the time to make modifications before it became a problem, it would likely have prevented many situations.
McNish: I think older adults have a tendency to adapt to what you have or just don’t want to spend the money to fix things up. Again, it is education; people don’t know the programs that are out there. There are a lot of programs for home modification.
— Venues for events and activities are conveniently located, accessible, well lit and easily reached by public transport.
Regan: Some are, some aren’t. Seniors like facilities in areas that are close together with other services. There are places that are fairly remote from other facilities. Some places have become far more accessible.
McNish: I think the majority are pretty good. A place like Aeolian Hall has an elevator; all the big theatres have elevators or are accessible. Places need to be accessible for all ages. And I think, certainly the larger venues, for the most part are.