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Paulina Ballbè. Director of the Postgraduate Programme in Active Ageing at the UPF

“It would be intelligent to consider how we would like to live when we get older, and to work to design an inclusive and accessible society”

A lawyer specialising in Community Law in EU, through her experience in the international sphere and in the academic world Paulina Ballbè has acquired a broad view of the demographic changes that will mark the evolution of our society. Despite recognising some attempts by the public powers – such as the communication actions promoted by the Office of Elderly People and the Department of Social Welfare and Family of the Generalitat Government — she highlights raising awareness and consciousness as the top challenges in advancing towards the social model of diversity.

Q.- What is Active Ageing?

A.- The OMS formulates the paradigm of Active Ageing as a process of optimazing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to improve life conditions as people age. For old age to become a positive stage, as life gets longer, it should be supported by opportunities to live in a healthy way and be able to participate in society with dignity as well as with the protection and assistance required. It is a “biopsychosocial” concept: it is not limited to be free from diseases but involves optimum maintenance of the psychological and social aspects.

Q.- How does this affect the current model of society?

A.- The question is whether we are doing enough, at the same time we become aware of the need to prepare ourselves for living in a society with a large percentage of older people. If we keep in mind the three pillars of the concept of Active Ageing (health, safety and participation) we must generate and allocate the necessary resources and make the appropriate strategic planning, with a view of future, so that people can age well.

Q.- How do you incorporate the concepts of inclusivity and accessibility into the postgraduate programme?

A.- The concepts are present throughout the course, because the aim is, precisely, to train professionals who understand what it means to be elderly and the social, political and financial consequences and implications of the spectacular increase in life expectancy. Elderly people are not a uniform collective, but a heterogeneous group with numerous different interests, aspirations and tastes.

Q.- Is the inclusive approach sufficiently widespread through the business enterprise fabric?

A.- No, in general companies have not yet realised the opportunities that are generated by thinking in terms of inclusivity and accessibility. RSE is progressing slowly. Many companies have begun to make  changes, if only for a matter of image, but if does not sufficiently meet the needs of people with diverse physical and sensory abilities. For example, in the hotel sector it is estimated that millions of tourists do not come to Spain for lack of adapted services of quality. Not care for these people means  segregation and at the same time a loss of income. The aging of the population involves increased demand for products and services related to leisure. Tourism will be probably one of the most in demand.

Q.- What arguments would you use to convince an advertiser or a creative to be more inclusive?

A.- All ages have their importance and their place, and that should lead to balance in the visibility of each. Old age also has “its own beauty” and you should try to find a way of enhancing it in visual and communication terms. You, as designers, have the knowledge and tools to communicate the value of elderly people, their contribution to society and to do so in an aesthetically pleasing and respectful way.

Q.- Is it easy to find experts in inclusive marketing and design?

A.- Aesthetics and accessibility should go hand in hand. Society will gradually mature and will reject – we hope! – aesthetics that are just for a chosen few. There is a shortage of experts in communication with a vision of the future, who have incorporated and assimilated the idea that quality communication must be accessible.

Q.- Are laws useful and effective instruments?

A.- Raising awareness among citizens is more important. What is needed is the collective vision that we will all grow old and that having a more accessible, safe and comfortable environment will be good for us all, on both a physical and a psychological level.

Q.- What should the role of the user be in the processes of design and development of inclusive products or services?

A.- The user’s role is key and will guarantee that products and services meet with acceptance and success in the marketplace. Users must be involved from the start of prior reflections on need or suitability. Currently many products are being designed that are termed Ambient Assisted Living products (AAL) (*), designed to make life easier and safer for older people and, fortunately, technology and innovation centres have realised, just in time, that they have to incorporate elderly people into their processes.

Q.- How would you share co-responsibility between the different agents involved?

A.- I would put the Public Administration first because it is equipped with the most powerful tools for raising awareness through information and training campaigns. Directly or through third-sector organisations, which are the ones that have the closest knowledge of the characteristics of the different social groups. If society is made more aware, then teachers at design schools will also be more aware, and they will train future designers appropriately to work with an inclusive vision.

Q.- How could we make greater progress towards the social model of diversity? What is lacking most?

A.- Above and before all else, education, training, raising of awareness and consciousness, a vision of the future and the courage to launch initiatives that do not have an impact in the short term, but in the medium and the long term. Resources can be found if it is approved as a priority on a political level. The models for tools and adaptations already exist, we do not have to invent anything at all, simply copy the good practices of more advanced societies. Regulations are defined and passed in parallel and in line with collective awareness of the primary need for respect towards others.

(*) Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) as a concept aims to prolongate the time people can live in a decent way in their own home by increasing their autonomy and self-confidence.

More information about the Postgraduate Programme here

Work: Sitting (oil on canvas)
By Andreas Englund

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