The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Older Adults

On July 26th, 2021 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 31st year. This civil rights law was designed to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to work, education, and their community. As we age our needs likely change. For many, this could lead to a decrease in mobility, vision, and/or hearing. From the ADA National Network*, “More than 30 percent of Americans over age 65 have some kind of disability and over 50 percent of those over age 75. These may range from difficulties seeing and hearing to walking and thinking. Under the ADA, it isn’t the cause of the disability that matters, but what it means in everyday life.” Therefore, many older adults are protected under ADA and can benefit from the support that is available to aid their daily living.

At the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM), our mission is to provide older persons and persons with a disability an array of services designed to promote independence and dignity in their homes and communities. With a change in physical abilities, individuals likely feel discouraged if they experience limitations in their mobility, vision loss, or hearing impairment. Withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy or isolating themselves from family and friends is common. This doesn’t have to be the case, there are a number of services and community partners available to help individuals remain independent.

In fact, technology and resources continue to evolve to assist older adults and those with disabilities as they navigate their homes and communities. Assistive technology such as a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) is available to communicate with and aid those who may require emergency assistance. Adaptive equipment such as an amplified phone, TV ears (voice clarifying headphones), and hearing aids are options for those with hearing impairments. Mobility equipment such as walkers, bath equipment, hoyer lifts, scooters, power and manual wheelchairs also are offered. Some of these items are available on loan or at a low cost through the Kent County Senior Millage and Older Americans Act funding. Home assessments are available to help identify barriers to independent living and, in some cases, can make this upgrade or repair for the homeowner, including ramps and grab bars, to ensure their homes meet their evolving needs.

Another important piece to supporting your loved one with mobility, vision, or hearing loss is to help them realize they are not alone. Education and support groups exist to emphasize comradery, education, and learning. For instance, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers support groups for those with vision loss or blindness to assist these individuals and their family members in understanding and coping with a broad range of impairments. Disability Advocates of Kent County features Aging in Place classes on their YouTube page that highlight assistive technology and other tools you can use.

To get started and learn about available supports, call the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at (616) 456-5664. We’d be happy to hear about your needs and connect you to a service partner in your community. We currently partner with Alternatives in Motion, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Baldwin Family Health Care, Disability Advocates, Elders’ Helpers, Home Repair Services, and more.