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Age Friendly Seattle Increases Access and Inclusion Despite COVID

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The past year was like none most of us have ever experienced. The COVID pandemic affected every person in our country to various degrees. At the City of Seattle, staff who were able to work from home did so, starting in March 2020. Priorities were adjusted, particularly to meet emergent needs related to the pandemic.

When the pandemic first started, Age Friendly Seattle staff—along with staff from many City of Seattle departments—served in shelters and food banks, working to ensure safe overnight accommodations for those who live unhoused and adequate nutrition for a growing number of older people who were unable to shop for groceries.

We also looked at a growing concern about older people and social isolation—a problem exacerbated by the very necessary Stay At Home COVID restrictions. The “double pandemic” facing older people has been recognized by public health officials.

Two months earlier, we entered a partnership with The Seattle Public Library to expand our popular Civic Coffee Hour program—providing a larger venue for our growing audience interested in presentations by City leaders. In addition, we were researching opportunities for language interpretation to meet the needs of our growing immigrant/non-English speaking audience. We were looking at opportunities to organize live community-based screenings.

AFS Report coverCoincidentally, City of Seattle staff gained easy access to MS Teams technology in late 2019, and Teams Live provided (and provides today) auto-captioning in English and a range of other languages, promoting both language and hearing access. We only missed one month (March) before our coffee hours were fully online, using Teams Live. Video-recordings posted on YouTube continue to offer captioning in a choice of languages.

We also recognized the need to add programming for people who were confined to home, with presentations and resources for often-underserved communities during COVID. My colleague, Lenny Orlov, created a series called Close to Home: Stories of Health, Tech & Resilience, and scheduled numerous presentations designed for immigrants, refugees, and people of color. Close to Home video-recordings are also available on YouTube. You can read about the coffee hours and Close to Home in 2020 and 2021 in Lenny’s article, “Exciting Changes to ‘Age Friendly Live’ Virtual Events” (AgeWise King County, January 2021).

A third series that took place in 2020 were three online LGBTQ+2S health and wellness forums, also available to view on our YouTube Special Events playlist. And Age Friendly Seattle offered video-conferencing and technical support for other online events, including the 2020 Legacy of Love African American Caregivers Forum and a PEARLS—Program to Encourage Active Rewarding Lives presentation for Seattle Parks/Lifelong Recreation participants.

Age Friendly Seattle enjoyed partnering with The Seattle Public Library on many of these programs and that partnership has carried over into 2021. Nancy Slote, the Library’s Older Adults Program Manager, offers useful information and tips as part of the introduction to many of our programs. Librarians are fountains of information, and Nancy’s focus on older adults is a wonderful asset for Seattle. Be sure to review the library’s Next Chapter webpage and check back regularly for new information.

We also promoted AgeWise TV, a series of one-hour programs on The Seattle Channel curated for older viewers, which helped bring information to people who watch television but don’t use computers. See “Seattle Channel Launches ‘AgeWise TV’ Programming” (AgeWise King County, July 2020).

In addition to outreach to immigrant and refugee communities to participate in online activities, Lenny completed his first full year on the Washington State Refugee Advisory Council in October and continues to serve. He helped plan and he moderated the Washington Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance’s 2020 virtual conference, a one-day symposium on the intersections of racial justice, immigrant and refugee communities, and the Black Lives Matter movement, on November 20.

I focused on outreach to people of African descent living in Seattle, finding significant health and economic disparities plus fewer connections for African immigrants than those available to African Americans. I want to thank the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders, which has been an excellent sounding board for this work. Also, I invite readers to listen to my Close to Home conversation with Dr. Omara “Ben” Abe and Paul Kimani on October 8. We discussed informal African networks, obstacles to accessing formal networks, strengths and needs in the community, and more.

Also in 2020, we saw inclusion and access increase from the addition of 10 interactive Americans with Disabilities (ADA) training modules to City of Seattle employees’ training repertoire. This was an important objective in the Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan for 2018–2021 and a priority for the volunteer-led Northwest Universal Design Council.

You can read about these and other Age Friendly Seattle accomplishments in our 2020 Annual Report.

COVID will still be with us through much of 2021. For the first half of 2021, we’ll focus resources on promoting COVID vaccination for older adults, sharing information through our online forums and reaching out to BIPOC populations that may not have formal relationships with the City of Seattle, to share information and resources.

We will continue to work with policymaking entities, bringing an age-friendly voice to immigrant and refugee councils, transportation boards, public health initiatives, and more. We will collaborate with other departments working to transform Seattle to be a just and equitable city. Specifically, Age Friendly Seattle will work to increase digital equity, communication, and affordability, and work to increase dementia-friendly training among City staff.

Throughout 2021, we will focus on connectivity, access, and inclusion. And we look forward to the day when we can return to in-person, face-to-face communication with the thousands of people who helped to mold our action plan and those who have participated in our programs—more than 6,400 in 2020 alone! Together, we can make Seattle a great place to grow up and grow old.

Brent ButlerContributor Brent Butler manages the Age Friendly Seattle program. Brent’s recent AgeWise articles include “Lessons from the Past Offer Perspective for COVID Response” (July 2020) and “LGBTQ+2S: Vaccinations, Vaccine Trials, and You” (October 2020).

The image at the top of the page shows (left to right) Age Friendly Live host Lenny Orlov, Converge Media founder Omari Salisbury, The Seattle Public Library Older Adults Program Manager Nancy Slote, and The Seattle Public Library Foundation CEO Jonna Ward. To view the programs, visit Seattle’s Black Community: History, Media, Vaccines & more – Omari Salisbury on Close to Home Ep.24 and Seattle Public Library Foundation & Vaccine Eligibility in WA State – on 1/21/21 Civic Coffee Hour.