2004 Conference Proceedings

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Ellen Perlow
Doctoral Student
Department of Health Studies
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
This document is available in alternative formats upon request.
Website: http://www.a4access.org/accessaging.html

The primary goals of Healthy People 2010, the comprehensive health initiative of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], are "to help individuals of all ages increase life expectancy and improve their quality of life" and "to eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population." (U.S. CDC, 2003). At the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy was under 50. Today, most people plan to live into their 70's, and many into their 80's (MIT. AgeLab, 2003). The phenomenon of population aging is a global health, economic, and social issue of major proportions. The aging trend is attributed to a decline in fertility and an increase in human life expectancy rates: fewer children being born and more people reaching old age.

According to the World Health Organization [WHO] (1998; WHO, 2003):

The normal human aging process that occurs with the passage of time involves usual and inevitable physical, psychological, and social changes. Some physiological changes can be modified or prevented through lifestyle choices (Alessio, 2001; Morgan & Kunkel, 2001, 4). Lifestyle and environmental exposures have a major impact on health indicators such as blood pressure, weight, loss of hearing and visual acuity, and also are catalysts for inevitable physiological changes, such as graying and loss of hair, facial wrinkles, bone density and brain cell loss, biochemical imbalances, and a reduced functional reserve capacity. As one ages, the chances of dying from a disease, as well as co-morbidity, increase dramatically (Alessio, 2001, 107-113). Four out of five persons aged 65 and older have one or more chronic conditions (U.S. NIA. NCI, 2003).

Among the leading health-related issues facing older Americans age 65 or older are hypertension, diabetes, mental health conditions - depression, anxiety, alcohol and other drug dependency, asthma, heart disease and bronchial emphysema (U.S. DHHS. HRSA. BPC. 2003). Five of the six leading causes of death among older Americans are chronic diseases: arthritis, diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, and heart disease (U.S. Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2000). Currently, 4.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, the fourth leading cause of death among U.S. adults (North Central Texas Council of Governments. Area Agency on Aging of North Central Texas, 1999, 20), and13.2 million cases are projected by 2050 (U.S. NIA, 2003).

The aging process also results in changing accessibility needs, especially if illness, chronic disease, or injury affects physical and/or mental abilities (U.S. AOA Center for Communication and Consumer Services, 2003). Accessibility issues have important implications for work and retirement policies, health and long-term care needs, and the social well-being of the older population. The proportion of Americans age 65 or older with chronic accessibility needs declined from 24 percent in 1982 to 21 percent in 1994. But despite the decline in rates, due to the rapid growth in the overall older population, the number of older Americans with chronic accessibility needs increased by about 600,000 from 6.4 million in 1982 to 7 million in 1994 (U.S. NIA. NCI, 2003). As the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's [AHRQ] Task Force on Aging noted: "Aging-related research shares common issues with research in other areas (e.g., care for people with chronic illness and people with differabilities, ed.] (U.S. AHRQ, 2001).

The current trend of global population aging has been forecast for many years. People are living longer, creating a companion need and desire for a longer good quality of life. The (as of this writing) inevitable aging process changes people physically, psychologically, and socially, resulting in the need to meet new conditions and challenges. A recurring topic of concern for older people is a desire to maintain independence and control over one's life. Such freedom is crucial even in the midst of losing some functional acuity and/or having to manage pain and/or illness (Ladd, 2003).

The accessibility needs of people with differabilities [PWDs], the people from around the globe who come together annually for this California State University at Northridge [CSUN] International Conference (2003), clearly match the needs of our growing aging population. The accessibility tools and methods designed, invented, manufactured, and utilized by people with differabilities are the very tools and assistive technology that everyone sooner or later needs as everyone ages. Thus, CSUN is as much a conference about how technology facilitates life for the diverse population of people with differabilities [PWDs], as it is and should be about how assistive technology can help the entire world adapt and cope with our increasingly aging population.

It should be as self-evident to everyone, as it is to us who are in attendance at this conference, that CSUN truly is "the real" Oscars, the real Academy Awards. Isn't it so? Unfortunately, the PWD population has had "bad press." Research and administration of various attitudinal measures have reported widespread prevalence of negative attitudes toward the PWD population, often attributed to lack of contact or a high level of "discomfort in interactions" with the PWD population (Feldman, Gordon, White, & Weber, 2002; MacLean & Gannon, 1995). In this author's opinion, society's negative descriptors for PWDs and PWD issues have provided a most fertile breeding ground for the negative, preconceived misconceptions about PWDs, even before such interactions occur (Perlow, 2003).

With the skyrocketing rise in our elderly populations, we, members of the PWD population and our allies, have the golden opportunity to positively revolutionize attitudes toward us as a population, as a class, as an underrepresented minority in the world's workforce and global society. Like expert pollsters, we know the responses we want to receive. Now we need to phrase our questions as to obtain the answers we seek.

This hands-on session will provide an interactive forum to brainstorm the development of a new PWD-designed attitudinal instrument that positively reflects the rich abilities and technological skills of our diverse PWD communities, an instrument that can make the crucial connection between our needs and the needs of our world's increasingly aging population.


Alessio, H. (2001). Physiology of human aging. In: L. Morgan & S. Kunkel. Aging: the social context. 2d ed. (pp. 107-141). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Feldman, D., Gordon, P.A., White, M.J., & Weber, C. (2002). The effects of people-first language and demographic variables on beliefs, attitudes and behavioral intentions toward people with disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 33(3): 18-25.

Ladd, L. (2003, September 11). Facilitator remarks at Parenting Our Parents program, Texas Woman's University Libraries-Denton Campus.

MacLean, D. & Gannon, P.M. (1995). Measuring attitudes toward disability: the Interaction with Disabled Persons Scale revisited. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10(4), 791-806.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]. AgeLab. (2003, May 13). The driving decision: health, safety and the older driver: executive summary. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://web.mit.edu/agelab/pfgpptzip/exec_sum.pdf

Morgan, L. & Kunkel, S, Aging: the social context. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

North Central Texas Council of Governments. Area Agency on Aging of North Central Texas. (1999, December). The strategic plan for aging and disabilities services. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.dfwinfo.com/hs/aging/PDF/NCTAAAStrategicPlan.PDF

Perlow, E. (2002, March). A for accessibility: positive wins every time. Presentation at CSUN 2002 International Conference. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.a4access.org/csun2002.html

U.S. Administration on Aging. Center for Communication and Consumer Services. (2003). Aging Internet information notes: assistive technology and aging. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.aoa.gov/NAIC/assistive technology&aging.htm

U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. [AHRQ]. (2001, May). Improving the health care of older Americans: summary. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.ahrq.gov/research/olderam/

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [CDC]. (2003). Healthy People 2010: what are its goals? Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.healthypeople.gov/About/goals.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health Resources and Services Administration. Bureau of Primary Care. [US DHHS. HRSA BPC]. (2003).Healthy aging initiative. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.agingstats.gov/chartbook2000/default.htm

U.S. Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. (2000, August). Older Americans 2000: key indicators of well-being. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.agingstats.gov/chartbook2000/default.htm

U.S. National Institute on Aging [NIA]. (2003, August 18). New prevalence study suggests dramatically rising numbers of people with Alzheimer's Disease. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/news/pr/2003/0820.htm

U.S. National Institute on Aging [NIA]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2003a). NIH senior health. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/about.html

World Health Organization [WHO]. (1998, September). Population ageing--a public health challenge: fact sheet no. 135. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact135.html

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2003). Ageing. Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.who.int/health_topics/ageing/en/

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