I am a 20-year-old intern for Age Friendly Seattle. My everyday life resembles that of most people my age: going to my college classes, learning how to budget, calling my mom for cooking advice. On the surface, I may seem far removed from the issues of aging and disability. In reality, every individual has personal stake in the wellbeing of these populations, myself included. Here are a few reasons why I work on aging and disability issues as a younger person and why other younger people should care about these issues, too.
Disparities in treatment
Unfortunately, many of us know that people with disabilities face inequities in access to healthcare and health outcomes, and older adults are at risk for loneliness, digital inequity, mobility limitations, falls, and dementia. It is apparent that our community needs to prioritize these needs in healthcare, social and cultural life, and digital spaces; Age Friendly Seattle aims to provide this support, which is why I wanted to join the team.
As a younger person, I am especially motivated to do this work because of the impact that my older loved ones with disabilities have on me. As a kid, I recognized that my aunt was often not treated well by other adults simply because she has a disability. At Age Friendly Seattle, I see the bigger-picture effects of these harmful perspectives and the unfortunate frequency of these biases. In doing this work, I am expanding my own perspective. I recognize that everyone I interact with is someone else’s loved one, like mine, and undeniably, we all deserve a safe and comfortable life.
Cultivating a new culture
As my generation emerges and settles into adulthood, I feel that our ability to impact cultural and social norms increases. With this, I experience a growing sense of responsibility to create positive change. To spend time working on disability and aging issues is one of the most direct ways to utilize this spotlight and positively reestablish our cultural standards. In this way, we address some of our community’s most important issues and support a group that is often not prioritized. Regardless of generation, being the change in advocating for equity starts with each of us.
Ageism and ableism help no one
Ageism and ableism are a detriment to older adults and people with disabilities. Negative outcomes include worsened mental wellbeing and physical health conditions. Even internalized biases can hold us back; one study found that having a positive perspective on getting older led people to live a median of seven and a half years longer than those who had a negative outlook.
These biases are harmful to everyone else in our community as well. They rob us of deeper intergenerational social connection, unity, and respect. Also, they limit the ability of older people and adults with disabilities to share their knowledge and skills with the world. These reasons make ageism and ableism significant to all of us, including younger non-disabled folks.
We are all aging
Lastly, I choose to work on aging and disability issues because of this simple fact that ties us all together—all of us, right now, are aging. The recognition that we are getting older is not the main reason to care about older peoples’ wellbeing, but I offer it is a reminder that it benefits all of us to work towards improving quality of life for these populations.
As an intern at Age Friendly Seattle, I consider my own relationship to aging and disability now more than ever. This has been beneficial for me. I have been able to address my own apprehensions, misconceptions, and questions that I have about getting older. I’m gaining a better understanding of what to expect as I age and how to better support the people I care about. I believe that all younger people would benefit from diving deeper into their perceptions and knowledge of aging and disability, for their own sake and for others.
Contributor Isabella Hankins is a third-year student at the University of Washington studying Community, Environment, & Planning and Medical Anthropology & Global Health. She joined the Age Friendly Seattle team this summer.