On 26 October, the 4th Dialogue Workshop of the SHAPES project was held virtually. Entitled “Diversity and empowerment: understanding the realities of older people”, the workshop reached out to academia, healthcare, civil society and older self-advocates to expose the lived realities of older people and people with disabilities, in the attempt to bring the SHAPES research closer to them. The underpinning philosophy is at the core of SHAPES: only if close to people’s wishes will technologies be useful for people.

To increase participation and ensure accessibility, the workshop had interpretation for international sign languages, Spanish, German and Italian, as well as written scripts available.

Older people and people with disabilities have their say

The workshop gave the floor to self-advocates who delivered powerful testimonies.

Joke de Ruiter, an older self-advocate committed to AGE’s work via the European Women’s Network in the Netherlands, was first to take the floor. “Older persons are portrayed as causing a tsunami in care. But most of us live independently! During COVID we were even described as dead wood”, she declared. Her words were a passionate call to identify and put an end to ageism in policies, services and social practices: “When I became 75 I discovered my insurance price had increased. I hadn’t had a single accident over the decades! It changed just because of my age. For older people society uses the word ‘still’. ‘Can she still drive?’, ‘can she still go out?’. Avoid it please!”. Her statement included a call to value older people’s role in society: “What if us, older people, stopped the work we are doing voluntarily, just for one day? Then maybe society would realise how big our contribution is!”.

Sanja Tarczay, from the World Federation of the Deafblind (WFDB), shared her experience as a person with disabilities: “Many people ignore the reality of deafblindness. They ignore even more the barriers as we age with deafblindness. As we grow older, there is not enough support available. And 2 out of 3 of deafblind people are older!”. Mark Wheatley, from the European Union of the Deaf (EUD), said that “barriers that deaf people face as they age are even bigger. To address them, ask older people themselves of their experiences and issues. Work with them! Social isolation is a huge problem and we need to tackle it”.

SHAPES researchers met with older people

To inform the development of the project with the realities of older people, SHAPES researchers have been conducting a study that has included interviews with older people across Europe. The workshop included a presentation of these #SHAPESstories. They reflect older people’s diverse needs, expectations and wishes. They point to the importance of connection, inclusion and participation. The stories, shared by the researchers who conducted this work, illustrated older people’s expectations around technologies. They showed how much these can empower older people, if well designed and if they respond adequately to people’s wishes.

Bringing research and policy-making together to create positive change

The last panel of the workshop gave the voice to initiatives external to SHAPES that can contribute to a Europe where older people live better. Lotan Kraun, from the TRANS-SENIOR EU-funded Marie Curie programme, presented the concept of his research on empowering older people in transitions between care services. Valentina Polylas, from the European Regional and Local Health Authorities (EUREGHA), presented the work of their members. She highlighted how important innovation is to inform policymaking; possibilities to explore synergies between SHAPES and EUREGHA’s members were identified, including using SHAPES’ outcomes to inform policymaking and to bring them to life in care systems.

In his closing remarks, AGE’s Secretary-General, Maciej Kucharczyk, highlighted that “we are working hard with our partners to make sure we close the potential gaps between the realities of older people and the technologies we design”. He encouraged all participants to challenge their own mindsets: “Let’s call our own thoughts and attitudes into question to make sure what we do and say helps everyone live as equals!”.