Student Op-Ed

Did You Notice That…? Notice What…? - Seeing Environments Through SWEAT-R

April 18, 2018

By Vivian Dang & Katrina Jang

To someone who is able-bodied, a potholed sidewalk isn’t end all be all. Many simply walk around and go about their day. However, this same inconsistency poses mobility issues for older adults, and often phases into the background as we lack the perspective to identify it as a problem. To empathize with these difficulties, we were introduced to the the Senior Walking Environmental Assessment Tool -Revised (SWEAT-R); an audit tool used to evaluate a community’s walkability for older adults, and that helps suggest environmental changes to improve walkability for all users. Despite the familiarity we had towards the neighbourhood segments we analyzed with SWEAT-R —with one member living minutes away—, we were perplexed by the lack of walkability by obstacles we normally wouldn’t bat an eye to.

Prior to using SWEAT-R, we found this neighbourhood overall to be quite nice: we were able to get around safely, and the segment conveniently allowed us to access various services by foot. However, we realize that without knowing built environmental elements, we would have just mindlessly passed through without finding any problems. The neighbourhood segment had mature trees which provided shade and natural greenery, contributing to its strong aesthetics. However, the mature trees turned out to be less ideal, where overgrown tree roots created uneven patchwork sidewalks and potholes, decreasing overall walkability. Users, especially those with mobility issues or baby strollers, may have no choice but to use it, since it is the safest option aside from using the road where cars can pass by.

Through our SWEAT-R analysis of other segments like the one we mentioned, we find that we often fail to create environments suitable to meet the needs and abilities of all individuals. The problems we lack to see in our daily lives remain hidden until we too see it problematic in older adulthood, which is ironic considering that aging is a phenomenon we all experience. As ageism is a problem that many older adults face in society, it will require the efforts of community members in creating more age-friendly environments that are beneficial and inclusive for everyone

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