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Committee focuses on making Olds more age friendly

Report's recommendations to be discussed later when council considers the level of service it wants to provide
MVT Wheelchair Challenge Dean 2018
Dean Craig crosses the intersection at 50th Avenue and 51st Street in Olds during the Age Friendly Committee's wheelchair challenge in 2018. File photo/MVP Staff

OLDS — A report on how to make the community more friendly and accessible for seniors will be brought back to council when it discusses the level of service it wants to provide to residents.

The report, known as the Age Friendly Action Plan, was created by the Olds Institute’s Community Lifestyles’ Age Friendly Committee via the provincial government’s Rural Development Network.

Erica Sweetman, the committee’s chair, brought the report to town council’s Sept. 7 policies and priorities meeting. 

It said the cost of initiatives to enable seniors to participate in and move around the community more easily could range from less than $5,000 to more than $20,000.

Sweetman said when creating the plan, the committee followed the provincial government’s recommendations "word for word.” Eight areas were identified for examination/improvement. 

“We’re very pleased with this document. It represents countless volunteer hours and valuable input from the community during the last five years,” Sweetman said.

Transportation

Sweetman said a transportation focus group is being planned for this fall. 

“Our intention is to invite presentations from other committees who have similar challenges in order to formulate our own ideas and gather information,” she said, adding that the committee is coordinating with the Rural Development Network to obtain a grant for work in that area.

One major issue identified is a lack of washroom availability during all months of the year.

Sweetman described that problem as “one of the major issues to their enjoyment of the community.”

She said the committee hopes to create an inventory of buildings that are not accessible for seniors or others who are physically challenged “and maybe work on somehow making that change.”

Sweetman said social isolation and agesim were also identified as big issues.

Wikipedia defines ageism as "stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age.”

"We’ve started a project called you Know Me. What that involved was interviewing several older persons regarding their experiences within the community of Olds,” Sweetman said.

She said quotes from those interviews, along with photographs will be displayed on posters that will be distributed throughout the community.

“A comment here is that the World Health Organization has stated that from their research they have learned that people are more afraid of aging than they are of dying,” Sweetman said.

The committee also plans to work with schools to encourage interaction between students and seniors. 

Housing was identified as another big problem.

“We’ve heard a lot from the children of aging parents about the difficulty of accessing information on housing and the options we have in our community,” she said, adding that issue needs to be addressed.

Communication

Communication issues were identified in each of the eight areas of focus and “appeared to be one of the major obstacles to the community finding out about our town,” she said. “We need to resolve that.”

On a more positive note, Sweetman said businesses in Olds are “generally receptive to employing older adults.”

"We find that the ones that are employed are happy in their positions and tend to stay, become reliable and good employees.”

Sweetman said the Age Friendly Committee has worked “extensively” with the community to develop the action plan. 

“This offers reasonable and realistic requests. But it is recognized (that) priorities change and we will work with the town to adapt wherever necessary,” she said.

Coun. Mary Anne Overwater was among several councillors who expressed support for the committee’s initiatives.

Overwater expressed frustration with the money smaller communities get for public transportation compared to the amount big cities receive.

She said she’s hoping town administration can devise a resolution on that issue that can be brought forward during the Alberta Municipalities Association convention in Edmonton this November.

“We have people of all ages who need help getting around too,” Overwater said.

Several years ago, the committee organized a wheelchair challenge in which town councillors and others tried to cross major intersections safely while in a wheelchair.

During that same challenge, a stroller was wheeled across with young children in it. That too was difficult.

Sweetman said another annoying problem for seniors – and others – are “phone trees” in several major businesses and organizations whereby people have to press 1 for one thing, 2 for another, 3 for yet another and so on. She said the town has that same kind of system. 

Coun. Heather Ryan and mayor Mike Muzychka shared that concern. 

Ryan said it’s not just frustrating and problematic for seniors.

“I certainly feel that way too when I get put on hold for half an hour," she said.

Muzychka said during a break in council session, he planned to bring up that problem with Michael Merritt, the town's chief administrative officer.

Sweetman quoted a comment the committee came across during its work: “if you design for the young, you exclude the old. If you design for the old, you include everybody.”

“It doesn’t matter how you design, providing you provide accessibility for everyone,” she added.

"We appreciate your incredible work; it’s been awesome and I think this ties right in with our inclusive community initiatives and our UNESCO initiatives and all the volunteers in our town. We appreciate it very much,” Muzychka said.