Older adults are both consumers and workers. On the west coast, people age 65+ spend an average of $56,284 each year. Nationally, 18 percent of people over age 65 are active in the workforce, bringing decades of experience, skill, and judgement to their jobs. Yet many businesses have not considered how their environments and practices might be impacting older adults, both as patrons and as staff.
Age Friendly Seattle aims to change that. Working with a group of graduate students from the University of Washington, we launched Age Friendly Business, an initiative aimed at educating business owners and staff about how they can create a more welcoming environment and provide better service for all ages. Even small, low-cost changes can have large effects; for example, mindful lighting can make it easier for older adults to read labels and lowering music volume can help those with hearing loss interact more comfortably with customers.
Many older adults live on fixed financial resources. In an increasingly expensive region, even small discounts on goods and services can provide meaningful financial relief. For years, the City of Seattle has administered a discount program for older adults and people with disabilities. Gold Cards are available to adults age 60+ and GOLD cards are available to adults age 18-59 with qualifying disabilities. These cards provide access to a range of discounts at several businesses and entertainment venues across King County.
In addition to providing some economic stability, discounts can encourage older adults to participate in social activities. Research indicates that social connectively is linked with health and isolated older adults are more likely to experience negative health outcomes, including declines in cognitive function. Engaging in social activities—whether visiting local museums, dining with friends, or spending a day at the zoo with family—helps promote good health.
The Gold and FLASH Card program is currently managed by Age Friendly Seattle. Our goal this summer is to increase the number of participating businesses. We want people to have access to meaningful discounts no matter which neighborhood they live in, so our staff and interns have hit the streets to talk to businesses and encourage them to join the discount network and to adopt more age-friendly practices. Prioritizing neighborhoods with high concentrations of older adults, we have started outreach in Bitter Lake, Northgate, Othello, Holly Park, and Chinatown-International District. In just three weeks, we’ve spoken with dozens of business people and received generally warm receptions. We also have a parallel goal of increasing the number of people who hold Gold and FLASH cards and are coordinating with community partners for distribution.
If you are involved in a business, we invite you to consider joining the discount network. You decide what level of discount to offer, and we’ll feature it on our directory. With almost 275,000 people 65+ in Seattle alone and over 500,000 in King County, you’ll be tapping into a large market. If you’re involved in an agency that supports older adults and/or people with disabilities, help us get discount cards into the hands of people who can use them! Contact us and we’ll mail you cards for distribution. Roughly 100 people request a Gold Card directly from us each month, and our partners play a big role in distributing many more.
If you have ideas about what types of businesses and organizations should be included in the discount program, we welcome your thoughts. Finally, if you’d like to join us in-person for outreach, we’d love to see you! Volunteer opportunities will be available throughout the summer.
Contributors are Dinah Stephens and Meg Woolf. Dinah manages Age Friendly Seattle (read “Advancing Age Friendly Seattle” in the January 2022 issue of AgeWise for more information). Meg is coordinating Age Friendly Seattle’s business initiative.