Dismantling Ageism Key to a Healthy Society (Audio + Transcript)

March 21, 2021

All types of discrimination have a negative impact. American society is just beginning to acknowledge its systemic sexism, racism, and white supremacy. Ageism, discriminating against someone because of their age, has been named in the contexts of the workplace and in matters of elder abuse. But its tentacles reach beyond these two scenarios, and its impact is felt by people across races, genders, socio-economic groups, within communities, and even within family structures.

While it is true that life as an older person is different and there are some losses, the perception of how different is outsized, and the gains are minimized. Only 4% of people 65-74 need some sort of caregiving or assistance. The statistic increases to 9% for people 75-84, and 20% for those aged over 85. (1)

These percentages do not match the ways that older adults are stereotyped, en masse, as weak, sick, useless, unattractive, and uninteresting. The outdated perception of what it means to age also ignores the data that people are happier when they are older. They have gained perspective, accumulated knowledge, and possess wisdom about the world and themselves. They are secure in who they are. What’s more is that life expectancy is extending. Older people are here to stay, and will be a majority. Things need to change.

What does ageism have to do with creative aging? Everything.


Creative aging, an arts education program model designed for older adults, focuses on creativity, skill-building, and arts mastery in a socially-supportive and engaging environment.

This model is inherently anti-ageist as it helps libraries, museums, community centers, residential communities, universities, and other public programmers see older adults as active, capable learners and creators. It also reminds older adults that they possess the talent, drive, energy, and commitment to learn how to make art, new friends, and express themselves as individuals.

‘In creative aging work, funding isn’t the barrier; ageism is,’ said Maura O’Malley.

Recently, Maura O’Malley, co-founder and CEO of Lifetime Arts, and Ashton Applewhite, writer and anti-ageism activist, spoke about:

  • Their own experiences and attitudes about aging and ageism
  • Collaborating to address and shift ageist views
  • Progress that has been made over the past decade
  • What needs to happen next
Listen to this high-energy, conversational, informative, funny!, and thought-provoking dialogue between two people working to release American society from ageist language, perceptions, taboos, and trappings, and make way for it to welcome an emerging, vital, valuable population of older adults. (TRANSCRIPT BELOW)
About Ashton Applewhite

Ashton Applewhite, Anti-Agism Activist, Author, and SpeakerAshton Applewhite is the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, named one of the 100 best books to read at any age by The Washington Post. Ashton began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is when she started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. She has been recognized by The New York Times, National Public Radio, The New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. Ashton has been a fellow for the Knight Foundation, The New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts. In 2017 she received a standing ovation for her talk at TED 2017. Ashton is also the founder of the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse.

About Maura O’Malley

This is a photo of Maura O'Malley. Maura has short, red, curly hair, and is wearing a magenta topi. Credit: Jeremy AmarMaura O’Malley, Co-Founder and CEO of Lifetime Arts, leads the development of Lifetime Arts’ national programming models, training programs and resources for Creative Aging stakeholders including teaching artists. Named a 2017 Influencer in Aging by Next Avenue, she promotes the field of Creative Aging at major national conferences in the arts, public library and senior service sectors. She has informed policy and created innovative programming for adults and children with premiere arts and educational organizations including the NYC Department of Education, Studio in a School and Young Audiences/New York.


Ashton Applewhite: The pandemic made me think about more explicitly was not just how to make my work more intersectional but in particular, address ableism, prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities, a lot of whom are older, but many older people are not disabled. Many disabled people are not old, but we act as though, we, all of us, as though that were not the case. A lot of our fear about getting older is rooted in fear about the loss of physical, cognitive capacity, which is human. The bigger issue with all of that stuff is not that our fears are not legitimate. It’s that they are way out of proportion.
Shannon McDonough: According to Maura O’Malley, Lifetime Arts co-founder and CEO, the biggest challenge to advancing creative aging work isn’t securing funding. It’s combating ageism. This is Shannon McDonough, deputy director at Lifetime Arts, and this is the Lifetime Arts Podcast. In the following spirited conversation, Maura talks with writer and anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite about this challenge and also about the headway that they have gained in the decades since they’ve been working together to break down ageist stereotypes and help community educators understand that older adults aren’t other and are definitely not less able.
Maura and Ashton explore the ways in which people express ageist views unintentionally and how ageism is at the center of every conversation about designing better systems and programs to serve this soon to be dominant age group. They reveal that one reason why becoming anti-ageist is hard is because it requires a lot of work and restructuring at the personal and organizational levels. They examine ways in which delivering remote programming during the pandemic has served as a proof of concept to expand the practice in normal times to reach older adults who live at a distance from physical community gathering spaces. Here’s Maura and Ashton.
Maura O’Malley: I actually remember distinctly when we first met, and it was– I actually don’t know. I remember where, and I know it was many years ago. Probably seven, eight years ago, nine years ago.
Ashton: I think so.
Maura: It was in a bar on the Lower East Side where you were giving a talk. It was actually–
Ashton: KGB Bar.
Maura: Yes. It was actually my friend and colleague Shannon who said, “I heard about this person, and she’s actually speaking in Manhattan.” I know the neighborhood well because my husband’s Ukrainian, so I knew exactly where this was. My oldest son and I and my husband went there, and it was super crowded, all kinds of great funky people. Just listening to you talk about stuff that I had internally been mulling around was really inspiring and uplifting and empowering. I remember thinking just that you had the ability to articulate what ageism was and how we are as a society and what I had been experiencing in my work and life for years around how older people are thought of, how they’re treated.
I had been a caregiver for many years for my aunt and my mother and just saw every day how people dismissed basic individual personalized– These people, it was a whole people with whole lives. When you started talking about it, I just thought, “Oh man, everybody’s got to hear this. Everybody’s got to hear this.” It’s like, I always thought everybody should go to art school. Everybody should hear this thinking and this conversation and this bravery. The way that you spoke was addressing an issue that I think is deep down a real fear that people have. I always think of one of my earliest memories it being in maybe first or second grade and going to the local nursing home just sitting with the kids in my class. I remember being absolutely petrified, and yet my grandmother lived with us.
Ashton: Interesting.
Maura: She lived with us for my whole early childhood till I was a teenager probably in– That relationship and that positive relationship was so in contrast to what I saw in this institution that I was confused by it and always had this desire to understand why that is and why was I so scared. It was especially interesting to me because that wasn’t my personal experience. My personal experience of living with older people was potent and long-term and positive.
In any case, hearing another grownup talk about this work in a positive and forward-looking, that was really empowering I thought. I felt immediately that for Lifetime Arts and the work that we were doing, we were encountering every single day incredible ageism and also understanding that it was not intentional. People didn’t know what they were– People didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Ashton: Right. Was it named as ageism? Probably not.
Maura: No. It was never. It had to do with the very specifics of designing a program for older adults, an arts learning program for older adults and the kinds of comments and questions that came from not only experienced teaching artists and arts professionals, but also people who work with older adults, librarians and senior service people.
Ashton: I was so naïve – Oh my God – when I started out because it took me a long time to find my voice and find what I really wanted to talk about. But then I thought, which I still think, wow, ageism is foundational to every conversation about longevity, about longer lives. An analogy is suppose we were talking about the role and voice and value of women in the world. Where would we be if we weren’t familiar with the word sexism and feminism and there hadn’t been the women’s movement to change the way the world thinks about it, which is why my rather ambitious goal is to help catalyze a grassroots movement on the basis of age.
I thought, oh, everyone in old land, as I sometimes call it, meaning aging services more narrowly, but anyone who works with older people is going to be so happy to hear what I have to say. This did not prove to be the case. You’re shaking your head like, “Duh.” I had to learn that the hard way because there is so much internalized ageism among people who work with older adults which would be interesting to talk about. I think they’re two reasons. One is that many people in aging services work with people at the most debilitated end of the spectrum, and it is genuinely– It’s a really difficult job to reconcile that view of aging, which is part of the spectrum, with what we hope lies ahead for ourselves.
The tendency all prejudice relies on othering, seeing a group as other than ourselves and even when it is our own future older selves. I think it’s easier and more understandable sort of stiff arm that reality if you are doing the really important work of caring for older people at the most debilitated end of the spectrum, but it is really hard to reconcile that view with what you want and realize that– A tell to me that always sort of makes me wince and sort of makes me laugh is how many people in old land with more road behind them than ahead like you and me still refer to older people as them, not us.
Maura: [unintelligible 00:09:38]
Ashton: I remember back then, I remember sending out massive numbers felt like of really thoughtful well-constructed emails about why it was important to address ageism in whatever end of– whether you were trying to design things for older people or make money off older people or help older people be more healthy or whatever it was. Ageism was relevant, and begging for anyone to offer $0 for me to travel somewhere really inconvenient to speak to hardly anyone about what I was talking about. Lifetime Arts was the very first organization to see what I was doing as integral to their mission, so thank you for that.
Maura: Oh well, thank you. The feeling is mutual. We didn’t start out identifying as what we were up against as ageism. We didn’t put that name on it. We began to realize that’s exactly what it was, where people would present a curriculum that was so disrespectful and so lacking in any kind of dignity. It was that otherness thing, that idea that well, they’re old, so they can’t do very much. So why don’t we let them sing radio and television jingles from the ’30s and ’40s? My question and this is a question that Ed and I developed over the year when someone would present a project like that, we would say, “Do you want to do that ever?”
Ashton: It reminds me of a question in the context of race. I remember reading interview way back when with someone. I don’t remember the name of the school, but someone who developed an amazing school in Harlem that took disadvantaged kids and really gave them a foothold in the world of ideas. Some wealthy potential donor came and said, what do your– toured, was very impressed. What do your kids need? I said, “What do your kids need?” What do you want for your own children? That’s the same thing we want for these kids.”
Maura: Exactly. That’s exactly it. It was not an easy thing for people to– When we asked those questions, it wasn’t easy for people to respond.
Ashton: It’s not easy.
Maura: Because it opens up a whole internal review and dialogue of your life and everyone you know and everything you’ve done, and everything you’ve thought about and how you-[crosstalk]
Ashton: You think it’s especially hard for people in your field? By which I mean not just creative– I’m eager to hear how creative aging fits into this tableau, but do you think it’s especially hard for people who work with olders to do that reckoning?
Maura: I think it’s especially hard for– Depends on how they’re working with older people. I think that in general program like community programmers and people who do programs for– senior programming, one shot passive entertainment stuff, it never got beyond that and being asked the questions like, do you want to do that, and who do you think you’re talking to? You’re talking about people 55 to 105 years old, all kinds of people.
Ashton: Sometimes I think if I can put one fact into every head, it would be the fact that the longer we live, the more different from one another we become. It’s one of those things where you say and see people’s face go ahhh, and then if they think about it, every newborn is unique, of course, every human being. But 17 year olds have a lot more in common socially and developmentally, obviously, than 37 year olds and so on out.
Maura: It’s complicated. One of the things I think that it means is, it means a lot of work. It means you’ve got change the work you do and the way you do it, and that for a lot of people I think is very difficult. Institutions and systems aren’t set up to change easily.
Ashton: Looking at bias is uncomfortable and difficult. One of the many interesting things about ageism to me is that it is often the first form of bias that white men encounter, which I think will emerge to be powerful, I hope, because it is a way to understand of course towards empathy, towards realizing, “Oh, this is what it feels like to be discriminated against on the basis of something I can’t change.” But hand in glove with that is the deeply uncomfortable reckoning that, “Oh gee, maybe I didn’t get where I got in life simply because of my brains and brilliance.” Yes, you’re a white man. You didn’t.
Maura: I do think that women have a whole different perspective on this than men do. It has become clear to us over the years that it is the biggest barrier that we have for advancing our work, and we see it in the example I just gave you about an individual teaching artist or organization developing a curriculum for old people. They would really dumb it down, and we’d have to say, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Visualize in your mind who these people are.
Ashton: It’s a really good rule. People say, “What do we call old people?” Call people or gay people or whatever, ask them what they want to be called, and then call them that.
Maura: Ask them the question. Ask them what they [unintelligible 00:16:06]. Ask them what they’re interested in. Ask them how much time they have. Ask them how much they’re willing to pay. Ask them questions, and they’ll tell you the answers. In the institutions, it’s at the level of the actual development of the program, but then in funding and institutions, I’m finding–
We have found over the years that issue of older adults as learners and creators is super challenging to people because it means that they have to change the programs and services that they deliver. It means that they have to have different staffing, different budgets. They have to have different partnerships. They have to think about people differently.
Ashton: Did they require persuading that older people can be and are creative?
Maura: Absolutely. That’s why from the very beginning we’ve demonstrated programs. That’s why we plot the programs. We plant them. We see the programs so that people can actually see what happens, and that has always been the ticket about what makes people change and say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know that this could happen. I didn’t know that if you give people resources and respect and time, all of this amazing stuff can happen.” That’s why from the [inaudible 00:17:31] they’re planting things.
Ashton: Do you find that– A metaphor that I came up with in my own awareness is that you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. In the context of my work, once you start to see– Once you do that uncomfortable thing of like, “Oh crap, I have all these ageist attitudes in myself,” but then you start to see it in the world around you, and that is really liberating. That’s the genie that doesn’t go back in the bottle. You find the same–?
Maura: That’s why, Ashton, our little mom and pop organization that started in an extra room in my house, that’s where we are because people need this. People to see how valuable it is to participate, to be not only a learner but to be a programmer or a funder or a legislator or anything. The value you can’t put it back, and it’s fun.
Ashton: That part yes because it is a joyful and powerful reckoning.
Maura: The stories that have come out of this work all of these year, people who became engaged. 88-year-olds who became engaged because they spent eight weeks together in a choral group on Staten Island, and at the culminating event, they announced their engagement. That’s like magical stuff.
Ashton: That’s great. One of the people I interviewed– Originally, it started as as a project, my project as interviewing people over 80 in the workforce, and one guy interviewed, he was a handyman at that point in his life. He had an engineering degree. He had done all sorts of things. He’d been a race car driver, and he had a snappy car. He was in his 80s, and people like, “Do you still drive that?” He was like, “Yes, watch this.” Wroom.
Really sweet guy though, and he sang in a choir. He would drive in from the Cape to Boston where he said, “You had to learn not only the singing but the lyrics.” You engaged in group activity, and he was teaching himself to sign because they also had a sign interpreter. Needless to say, it was an incredibly wonderful social experience, and it was also a neurocognitive workout for him.
Maura: Absolutely. The other thing that’s come out of all this in the ageism sort of underlying, we have worked really hard to make it an issue and to talk about it. Because when you get an application for a grant and say, “What are the barriers that you foresee in getting this project done?” Number one, it used to be we used to say as a nonprofit arts organization, you’d say, “Oh well, it’s funding.” It’s not funding. It’s ageism and the ideas that people have about who older adults are.
Ashton: Right, and our value as human beings.
Maura: Yes. Funding for older adults is not just in the realm of the senior service department. It’s public libraries, and it’s the Arts Council. It’s parks and rec, and it’s everyplace else.
Ashton: I have quite a few librarian allies, and they routinely talk about how kids programming is funded and a source of whatever, enthusiasm, pride, whatever. Then maybe there’s an afternoon where older people can come and glue macaroni on plates, and that’s about it. If you think about the percentage, it’s not about old versus young, ever. It should be about educating the whole community, of course, but the percentage of people in the community who are under 10 versus the percentages that are over 50, there’s simply a numerical case to be made for in terms of benefit to the community.
Maura: That’s why we talk about sustainability in terms of administrative and programmatic and financial. It’s just not, how do you keep a program going financially? Because how do you change your organization and institution to bring these kinds of programs as a matter of course. This is what we do.
Ashton: Then you’re not chasing, ideally, this tiny pot of money that’s allocated to old land. You’re talking about community development. You’re talking about getting out into the community, creating intergenerational initiatives. We could both go on and on about all the benefits in every sector to anyone who participates.
Maura: We’ve been focusing on forcing those cross-sector partnerships that serve older adults. We have some programs going out in state level. One is in Wyoming with the state library and the state arts council, collaboratively planned, collaboratively delivered, collaboratively funded. The same in New York, New York State Council on the Arts with the Office of The Aging. New money they brought in together, looking at older adults as a constituency for all of them. It’s not just the senior services Office of The Aging that deals with older adults. It’s everybody else as well.
Ashton: Exactly.
Maura: So thinking about it differently. It is still that issue of ageism that actually what the programming actually looks like and what it means and what it feels like is something that we still have to demonstrate. We still have to do lots of videos and lots of photographs and lots of testimonials. We also still have to, when we are able to again, bring people to see what happens.
Ashton: Culture change is slow. I like to point out how incredibly rapid culture change has been around gender and gender roles, and that involves sex in our Puritan culture. If we can reconfigure our thinking that rapidly on something as fundamental as gender, it’s a good reminder that it can and does happen.
Maura: I think that there has been a change, Ashton. I think that your work and our work too has made– There’s a different tone around.
Ashton: Oh, good. I do too.
Maura: Yes. I also think that COVID has brought to the floor the whole idea of social isolation, which is critically– It’s become a way in for us to do more work and to talk about it on a bigger scale, on a different scale. People are understanding social isolation and then connecting it to ageism and to older adults is an easier leap than [inaudible 00:24:33].
Ashton: One of my many pet peeves is how anything related to age and aging, the default position is sort of hand wringing, “Oh, dear me. It’s all awful” or sort of alarmist, “Old people are going to swamp the systems and suck all the good stuff out to sea and don’t care about young people.” There was some messaging around COVID in the beginning that it’s making ageism worse, and I said from the get-go, it is not making ageism worse. It is exposing what has been there all along and giving us an incredible opportunity. To me, the really fantastic thing about the pandemic, which is an awful thing to say because it should not have taken the deaths of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to wake us up to this, not to mention the disproportionate toll on women and on black and brown people, but it has exposed the way we’re all connected in the most obvious sense.
It is actually I believe Gen X, whatever that is, that the younger people who experience higher degrees of social isolation in general pre-pandemic, that these are aspects of the human condition, and that vulnerability itself is– the way different aspects of vulnerability around gender and race in terms of the harm done by the pandemic is linked to age and the way we can and must mobilize against them all. That’s very, very exciting to me because it feels right ethically and because I don’t want the movement against ageism to be just middle class white women like you and me. That’s not the boat I want to be in.
Maura: It’s always been challenging but inspirational and positive and making me want to continue to do this work.
Ashton: It’s exciting too because you can see from the growth of your efforts that you are having a demonstrable measurable impact. People say, do you see anything happening? I’m glad that we created– With two colleagues, I created a clearinghouse of free vetted anti-ageism resources called Old School, oldschool.info and I want to talk about your efforts in that vein too on the theory that movements need tools. This is a new movement. Wouldn’t it be cool if the women’s movement had had a place where scholars and activists in the public could go and say, “Who do I listen to? What do I read? What workshops should could I use? Et cetera.
I say a global movement against ageism is underway, and here is the evidence. When we create Old School three years ago, we didn’t have a campaigns section. Now it is one of our fastest growing. These are not campaigns about how to live forever, about how to be healthy, about how to be creative not even as an older person. These are anti-ageism campaigns, and that is tangible evidence that I’m not delusory and that this is a real movement that is gaining traction and power.
Maura: You’re right. As a service organization, we’ve always been developing tools and inventing tools to help people get to where we need them to get to. It’s almost like another whole business. It’s just trying to make sure that we’re not missing important things, that we’re creating materials and tools that are usable, accessible and then finding a way to help people know about them and get them out to them.
Ashton: And probably trying to get people to let you use them for free, right?
Maura: Yes. Actually, we’re trying to make it so that people can use them for free.
Ashton: We are too. Everything on Old School except the books is free. There are some good things that are not up there because they are not free, but we are really clear that you can take anything that we have created. With the workshop, we put the instructions and the PowerPoint and the text up there so you can download it. You want to pay us to give it, fantastic. You want to give it as is, great. We’d like credit, but honestly, you want to steal it or appropriate it, you have our blessing. The goal is to get those ideas out in the world.
Maura: Right, and how to do it in a way that’s– It’s like another whole branch of the organization of how to create these materials and get them out there, but it’s definitely worth it. That’s what our aim is, is that it’s always from the beginning is that we didn’t want to sell services. We didn’t want to sell programs. We wanted build the capacity of other organizations to do this work because this work has to be done in community by the people who are going to benefit from it, who are going to learn from it.
Ashton: That doesn’t happen unless people have ownership and are invested in their own programs. I just get emails all the time like, “The work you’re doing is great, and go end ageism,” and I’m like, “Let’s make that we. Let’s make that us.” The movement needs a million voices. If all you do, and I don’t mean all, is call out gently someone when they talk about having a senior moment, you are engaged. There’s only one of me. There’s a million of you. Take whatever piece of this resonates for you out in the world.
Maura: I think that’s part of the work that we have to do is give people the words to use.
Ashton: That’s what I do. I’m a writer. People all the time want me to speak about ageism in the workforce or in more specialized or ageism in long-term care, and I have learned not to say I don’t know anything about that because I actually know a lot about it. But people can take what we’ve used and the stuff that we’ve made into those specialized arenas. I am seeing many more resources created, which is good. People are sending stuff in, which is fantastic. If we don’t have it, then make it yourself. Send it in.
Maura: Or point to someone who might have something like it or who could produce it.
Ashton: Will you tell the world more about the sort of resource bank that you’ve created?
Maura: Sure. We have a great team of curricular experts and programming implementation experts. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we produced it online, Creative Aging 101, a shorter version of our live training, because we knew that we– We didn’t know at the beginning, but we suspected that we wouldn’t be able to do live training for a long time. We did a in-house video, but it’s been very effective. We gave it out. We put it out on the website. It’s basically what creative aging is in a multi-hour video thing.
Then we did a how to adapt live programming, creative aging program to online formats, which we’ve been training around now. That’s been so much of what we’ve done in the past year. We’ve pivoted everything to online. We have just published a new website called creativeagingresource.org. It’s like your Old School in that it’s a curated resource around creative aging, around all the different issues that we deal with.
What is it? It has a lot of work on what is ageism in there, who’s doing the work, how’s it being done, what is the teaching artists, all the basics. It’s curated with all kinds of materials, current and older resource materials so that people can get right in there and get so much of what they would need to understand what the field is about and to get started. That’s been a big effort that really emerged out of COVID.
One of the things that was interesting about COVID is that because so many of our programs were canceled or postponed, we internally had time to think [inaudible 00:33:41] and to produce. We were able to pull this Creative Aging Resource together, and it’s part and parcel of a bigger online learning program that we’re doing. It’s a free resource that is helping us to do what we intend to do, which is to build this field. It’s out there.
Ashton: Are people using it?
Maura: Yes.
Ashton: I remember when we launched Old School, it was nothing but this idea. We were astonished that there was so much enthusiasm and pick up. I didn’t make the front page of the New York Times. NBC wasn’t calling, but within our community, we were frankly astonished. It has continued to grow, which was really [unintelligible 00:34:39]
Maura: It’s also really helpful for us in our training business because it’s a repository for resources that our trainees need access to.
Ashton: No kidding. I think all the time like, “Where’s that damn thing?” Then I’m like, “Oh, it’s in Old School.” As soon as we get our search working better – don’t say I said that, our next top priority – I’ll be able to find the damn thing.
Maura: It’s another whole industry that we have to– In order to do what we want to do, share our resources, you have to have all this other technology underneath it.
Ashton: We are for sure, the world as a whole, going to be working more remotely, to state the obvious, meeting more virtually. Another thing that the pandemic made me think about more explicitly was not just how to make my work more intersectional, which is to say address other forms of discrimination more explicitly, but in particular address ableism, prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities, a lot of whom are older, but many older people are not disabled. Many disabled people are not old, but we act as though, we, all of us, as though that were not the case.
A lot of our fear, it’s relevance to ageism and aging is that a lot of our fear about getting older is rooted in fear about the loss of physical or cognitive capacity, which is human. The bigger issue with all of that stuff is not that our fears are not legitimate. It’s that they are way out of proportion to the reality and that fear itself is bad for us physically and cognitively.
So let’s understand what we’re up against and instead of acting like those two things are separate which just reinforces dual stigma. I may be old, but at least I’m not crippled. I may be crippled, but at least I’m not an old lady. All that does is make it harder to overcome both of them. Back to the point about moving online, it reminds me of that famous New Yorker cartoon of the dog sitting at a computer keyboard and the caption is, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog [chuckles].
In Zoom, people don’t know, arguably, if you are in a wheelchair. They may not know how old you are. Those aspects of our identity, which is not to say we should hide them, but they’re less salient on first appearance, and that is a leveler in a really welcome way. If traveling is too expensive for you or too hard for you and of course, I’m still assuming you can afford a digital device and the internet connection, which a lot of people can’t, but nevertheless, the barrier to entry is lower.
I think we’re learning more about making online stuff accessible with closed captions, with sign language. I’ve learned to caption all my videos, et cetera, et cetera. I see progress that way in making things more accessible literally. You don’t have to get on a damn plane and also for people with hearing, sight, cognitive issues.
Maura: One of the terms that we’ve come up with because we’re working with– We’ve been working for a while now with the Wyoming State Library. Super, super rural state and the question of accessibility and the digital divide and coupled with social isolation but also geographic isolation, all these people who just– In a state like that, you’re 100 miles from the nearest library or anything. The term that they were using was people who were at a distance.
Ashton: Nice.
Maura: Sometimes they could gather, and that has opened up so many opportunities for us to reach people in other way.
Ashton: It’s a value natural term. It doesn’t stay isolated. It doesn’t say lonely. It’s a little bit like one phrase that I’m glad has emerged recently is vaccine hesitant. It’s not like you’re an anti-vaxxer. It’s not like you’re a no nothing. It means you’re thinking about it. It’s neutral. Nothing wrong with that.
Maura: At a distance I thought was a really important term for us to adopt.
Ashton: My brother-in-law used to say he wasn’t short. He was just far away.
Maura: It’s like my husband used to say I was pale, and I said, “I’m not pale. I’m fair.”
Ashton: There you go.
Shannon: Thank you Maura and Ashton. If you would like to learn more about anti-ageism campaigns and access resources, please visit Ashton’s Old School Clearinghouse website at oldschool.info, and if you’d like to find out more about creative aging, please visit lifetimearts.org and creativeagingresources.org.
[00:39:53] [END OF AUDIO]