Guest Blog: Considering dignity in design – starting the conversation about dignified technologies for older adults


By Julie Buelow & Lia Tsotsos

Have you been to the doctor lately? How about a family member or close friend? What was the experience like? Did you feel like you were treated with dignity? Dignity means that you are worthy of honour and respect (as defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary), and in a medical sense, this means that a patient is treated with honour and respect regardless of their condition or current medical situation. Dignity is a key component of health care, and clinicians strive to provide it. It often extends to a patient’s family and friends as well.

Have you ever thought about your dignity when technology fails, like while using health care equipment or an app on your phone? Do you still feel respected if health care technology doesn’t quite work? What if your app fails while you’re monitoring your blood glucose levels at home? What if you can’t figure out how to take photos on your new smart phone? Is your dignity lessened if you become frustrated or upset? These are questions that we have begun to explore at the Centre in partnership with the Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design at Sheridan.

We know from research that technology can make the lives of older adults better. Even though it can be beneficial, adopting technology has been slower for older adults than their younger counterparts. Why? There are age-related barriers such as changes in mobility, but are their non-age related barriers related to the design of technology itself? Could it be that technologies are not designed in an especially dignified way?

Let’s take an example from the smartphone world. If you have low vision, you can compensate by changing the phone’s settings to make the text on the screen appear larger. The problem though is that others nearby can easily see what’s written on the screen. This reduces your privacy and alerts others that you have trouble seeing. Something intended to benefit you is also creating vulnerability.

With research conducted at the Centre, we are beginning to evaluate existing web-based health care tools in an effort to better understand how online systems might promote or compromise the dignity of the user. Our hope is that by involving older adults in this conversation (especially since they are often not included), we can begin to develop a way of talking about the role of dignity in the context of design – call it a vocabulary, or taxonomy if you will. By creating this common vocabulary, interdisciplinary teams of designers, programmers, marketers, field testers, researchers and end users can all speak the same language when considering how best to design and create innovative technologies for older adults.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you consider the role of dignity and technology – write us a note at , and let us know what you think!


Julie Buelow is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College and Lia Tsotsos is the Principal Researcher at the Centre for Elder Research.

Guest Blog: Life of a Student Research Assistant

For the past 8 months we (Tulsi and Sarah) have been working for the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research as student Research Assistants on a grant pertaining to social isolation and loneliness amongst immigrant older adults living in Peel and Halton. The word “research” is often associated with ample amounts of searching, reading and learning, that ultimately can seem like a lot of work; making it a daunting job.

Almost any student can recall the stress and hours spent in front of a computer or in the library gathering information for an immensely important term paper or proposal, trying to find that one fact which made their entire paper credible. Luckily for us, being a Research Assistant is nothing like that experience. Instead, it has been captivating, intriguing and very exciting to uncover or discover new facts that contribute to our project.

We have been spending our time conducting various forms of qualitative and quantitative research, which has included Internet searches, structured interviews with agencies that provide services for older adults, and of course literature reviews. All these approaches are fundamental to the process of research but of course, come without their struggles.

The project started with gathering agency information and creating a database of particular agencies that provided services to older adults and older immigrants in Peel and Halton. After creating our database, we moved on to the next phase of scheduling interviews with a selection of agencies. Little did we know that we were about to enter a game of cat and mouse (most commonly known as ‘phone tag’). Contacting agencies was very easy, however scheduling and conducting the agency interviews took time and required immense patience. We realized that the reason behind this was that most agencies or organizations are extremely busy or are run by volunteers who have multiple responsibilities and duties within as well as outside the agencies.

Another key piece of learning that we came across was that faith communities are filling a service gap and meeting the needs of isolated and lonely immigrant older adults, however, they are also the hardest to reach out to. We learned this is because they are hidden within the pockets of their community and operate without funding but with their own resources, which means they may not have a designated person around to answer emails/phone calls. To address this we created a different outreach strategy to connect with faith communities, which included personalized letters and follow-up phone calls.

As we wrap up the last few weeks of our summer contract, we are looking forward to the next chapter of our research. This will include identifying and interviewing isolated and lonely older immigrants. After 8 months of research and learning about this population, we will finally get the chance to talk to the main focus of our project. We are certain there will be struggles, however we are very excited and eager to move forward.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Sarah joined the Centre for Elder Research in January 2016 as a student research assistant on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant. Sarah completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at McMaster University in 2015 specializing in human geography and world religion. Sarah is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker – General Stream program at Sheridan College. Working at the Centre has given Sarah the opportunity to apply classroom learning in to real life research. Sarah hopes to continue to work with older adults after graduating in April 2017.

Tulsi is part of the Centre for Elder Research as a Research Assistant under the SSHRC grant. After having completed her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo in 2014, Tulsi is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker – Gerontology program at Sheridan College. Being a part of the Centre for Elder Research has given her the opportunity to apply her science and gerontology knowledge into various aspects of applied research.

Guest Blog: Tub tips for aging in place

file000975936314Bathtubs are a mixed blessing for those of us who wish to age in place. From the time we’re young, soaking in soothing hot water is associated with relaxation, stress reduction and quiet contemplation. There’s nothing like a good soak at the end of the day, as my mother always said. But as our mobility decreases, and we become less and less steady on our feet, the traditional bathtub with its high sides and slippery surfaces may become less user friendly. In fact, it may even become down right dangerous! For those older adults who would like to continue to enjoy a bath even though it has become more challenging to do so, and for those who have been prescribed bathing as a recommended part of a therapy program, selecting a safe, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing accessible bathtub can seem overwhelming. There are just so many choices. In this article we will look at some basic tips on how to choose the right bathtub for your long-term bathing needs.

First it is important to understand that bathtubs are generally more expensive to install than a shower, and any option that requires the use of a contractor will not be cheap. According to the website, accessible tubs may be defined by: the door type (no door, inward, outward, upwards or sideways opening doors); the entry style (walk/step-in, slide-in, lift-in); and whether the user sits or lies down inside. Below are some options to help you to refine your search:

Option 1: A “walk-in” tub: Just as the name implies, a “walk-in” tub features a side opening that swings either inward or outward and the bather walks into the tub through a very small opening by stepping over a low threshold while the tub is empty. If you are steady on your feet, this tub type reduces the chances of falling as the low threshold eliminates the need to step over the raised tub side of the traditional 30” x 60” bathtub found in so many Canadian homes. To use the tub, the bather sits on a built-in seat, closes the door, and adds hot water. The advantages afforded by this tub-type include the very low entry threshold, the molded raised seating within the tub, and the aesthetic appearance of the finished product. Of the options discussed here, this is the most aesthetically pleasing. However it is also the most expensive as units can cost between $7,000 – $20,000 to install. Why so costly? Because the contractor must remove and discard the old tub, new equipment must be purchased, and installation may require plumbing upgrades, a new tile surround and new flooring. Also consider the renovation hassle as the installation of this type of tub can take from several days to several weeks, leaving you without access to the bathroom during that time.

And then there’s the bathing experience. Bathers must enter the tub when it is empty so that the door may be secured properly. Filling and draining times can take 10 minutes or more (these tubs hold between 40 and 80 gallons of water). This can mean a very cold start and finish to your bath. Bathers are required to sit rather than recline leaving shoulders and chest exposed. And finally, for taller users, closing the door can be difficult as the space within the tub is generally very tight when sitting down.

Option 2: Modifying an existing tub: The “tub cut” alternative is particularly well suited to situations where one or more in the household wish to bathe while others wish to shower. For this option, a contractor cuts a door into the side of an existing bathtub (tub cutters can accommodate any type of tub material from cast iron to plastic) creating a low threshold for entry. The door insert may or may not swing but when sealed allows and the tub to be used as a regular bathtub. This is a much more cost-effective alternative than the walk-in tub (prices for modification start at around $1,500 and work is completed the same day) but the end result is not as aesthetically pleasing. Anyone who visits the home will immediately know that the bathroom has been modified. And many of the same issues that confront the walk-in tub user will also apply with the tub cut. This tub type also presents an additional safety hazard as the bather must raise and lower themselves into the water. Grab bars will need to be installed to ensure safety. The bottom line: the tub cut option is probably best suited for people who prefer to shower.

Option 3: Motorized bath chair: This is by far the most inexpensive, safest and easiest of the three options discussed here. The motorized bath chair is placed inside your existing bathtub. At the push of a button, the seat lowers the bather down into the water and it raises them back up at the end of the bath. There are a wide variety of tub chairs on the market, ranging in price from $200 to $500 or more ( has a good selection). Look for a motorized chair that ensures there is sufficient power to both lower and lift the bather before beginning the bath. Best of all, there is no need for a contractor or for any alternations to made to the bathroom. The chair can be removed and taken with you to a new location or when the time comes to sell the home.

In summary, before buying, do your research. Ask friends who have been through the experience what they have found works best, do a web search to see what others are saying about specific products, and whenever possible, try to use the product first hand before making your investment. For a more comprehensive overview of bathing solutions, including images, visit

Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging
in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.

Business of Aging: Aging Simulation Suits

Aging simulation suits are becoming more popular because they can be used to emulate the physical and sensory limitations that may be experienced by individuals as they age. This allows the user to gain a better understanding of how aging may affect an older adult’s ability to successfully navigate their physical environment and perceive their physical surroundings. When used in a structured way by business owners, this insight can help them dispel their assumptions about aging to develop better products and services for older adults.

safe_image.phpWhen we consider the physiological changes that most commonly occur with increasing age (e.g. sensory impairments, reduced mobility, decreased strength, etc.), it is easy to imagine how the suit can be used to evaluate existing environments. An article entitled As Baby Boomers Age, Is Architecture Failing Them highlights how one architecture firm uses aging simulation suits to ensure that an aging population can successfully negotiate the commercial buildings they design. By focusing on how ‘baby boomers interact with buildings’, the firm was able to identify specific design elements that needed improvement such as ‘lengthening the landings on escalators to allow [the] user to regain balance’.

Another practical use of aging simulation suits is the Working With Seniors: A Primer for Health Care Providers program at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in partnership with Baycrest. This program provides healthcare students with simulation experiences to gain ‘first-hand perspectives and experiences of the challenges that seniors often encounter during medical appointments’.

When used strategically, aging simulation suits are effective tools that enable users to consider ways of making environments more accessible for older adults. It is, however, vitally important to remember that not all older adults age in the same way and that the changes simulated with the suits are not indicative of the challenges faced by all older adults. This is why the upcoming Business of Aging Global Network Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) chapter meeting, hosted by the Centre for Elder Research, will feature a tailored experiential workshop that not only uses aging simulation suits, but also explores participants’ beliefs and attitudes about aging. (See flyer for details.) The simulation, when paired with the introspective exercises, can help users make the best use of aging simulation suits, improving their products and services for individuals of all ages and abilities.

2016_07 bagn mtg flyer