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Disaster from the Eyes of Older Persons

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

As part of our Critical Design for Urban Flooding unconference in Chiang Mai, our cohort of fellows participated in a Disaster Preparedness Planning workshop with the community of older persons/senior citizens of Nong Hoi, Chiang Mai. This was made possible by our partner NGO, the Forum for Older Persons Development.

To assist older citizens in developing disaster preparedness plans, our team first needed to simulate what it might physically feel like to have the body of an older person. I wore glasses that simulated cataracts and gloves with garters inside that cut off the circulation in my wrist and fingers, making my hand movements stiff, in a way simulating arthritis. Also had wrist weights, ankle weights, leg pads and corsets that restricted our movement.

Image 1. Glasses that simulated cataracts and gloves that simulated arthritis. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig

We spent five hours dressed like this, walking around the neighbourhood, talking to people, taking notes, eating. The first hour wearing all these impediments was uneventful, but afterwards my wrist became painful and I couldn't do simple things like unzip my shoulder bag, open my water bottle or use my phone. I was also constantly trying to catch up with my companions as my movement and vision were restricted. When the novelty of my attire wore off, so did the attention of my companions during the walk. Sadly, I realised that those of us who are younger and more fit often fail to adjust our movements and dispositions so that our older companions will feel included.

Image 2. Wearing simulation gear with my field partner Guru, who works with indigenous groups experiencing disaster in India.

Image credit: Sneha Malani

Image 3. Leg corsets and ankle weights to restrict movements

Image credit: Sneha Malani

I was quite relieved when it was time to remove all of these constraints. Of course, this is nothing compared to what older persons may be experiencing in actuality and our discomfort was only temporary. Still, I will always look back on this experience whenever I'm called to assist in disaster planning with vulnerable groups, especially with older persons.

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