The importance of using an equity lens in age-friendly communities planning

The diversity of the B.C. population cultivates connections and celebrates cultures, experiences, and life paths that combine to create connected and resilient communities. However, these differences also bring attention to the diverse needs of our population which are essential to consider in creating healthy communities for all.  The proportion of adults over 65 in B.C. is growing, along with the Canadian 65+ population which is projected to reach 22.7% by 2031. It is more important than ever to focus on removing the systemic and structural barriers for older adults, that remain embedded in programs, policies, and services. These barriers cause inequities that prevent underrepresented groups in the older adult population from accessing healthy aging in their communities. Developing communities that create healthy aging for all can be achieved through the use of an equity lens in age-friendly communities planning.

Equity is the fair distribution of opportunity, power, and resources to meet the needs of all people regardless of factors such as age, ability, gender, income, education level, culture, or background. Using an equity lens in age-friendly community planning and policy development means asking ourselves a certain set of questions throughout the entire process:

• Who benefits?

• Who is not included?

• What contributes to this exclusion?

• What can you do differently to ensure inclusion?

Using an equity lens in age-friendly community planning allows communities to meet the unique healthy aging needs of all by including those who have been historically left out of community planning. These groups can include those older adults who identify as Indigenous Peoples, racialized, women, two-spirit and LGBTQ2S+, newcomers, experiencing poverty and low income, the first language is not English or having low literacy, living with disabilities/mobility needs, experiencing homelessness/precarious housing, experiencing mental illness, experiencing addictions, and living with dementia. The inequities experienced in these groups intersect with and amplify those of growing older, leading to increased complexity in this already heterogeneous group.  

There are many methods to incorporate an equity lens into the four-step process of age-friendly communities planning Here are some examples: 

1. Establish an Age-Friendly Advisory Committee: Create a diverse advisory committee that includes older adults who are both content and context experts (those with lived/living experiences of inequities).  A content expert might be a professor of gerontology or a director of an assisted living residence, while a context expert might be an older adult with lived experience of homelessness, low income, or being a newcomer to Canada.  

2. Conduct an Age-friendly Community Assessment Reduce barriers to participation to allow for meaningful engagement with underrepresented older adult populations. This can be done in many ways such as covering transportation costs, providing childcare (many older adults provide childcare for their grandchildren), and using large, accessible fonts on promotional materials for your engagement events. 

3. Establish an Age-friendly Action Plan: Examine how the actions identified in your action plan will impact underserved groups. For example, if your engagement highlights the need for better public transportation, be sure to also pay attention to transit service delivery across different neighbourhoods and user needs

4. Monitor Implementation and Evaluation: Monitor whether inequities are being reduced. Do those experiencing inequities now have the power to be a part of, or influence, decision-making in your age-friendly planning process? Ask if these groups feel their needs are being met and incorporate feedback from those with lived experience. 

Incorporating equity into age-friendly communities planning can seem difficult at times. There are various challenges you may encounter such as difficulties reaching certain groups for engagement or allocating adequate resources for a thorough equitable approach. However, there are ways to address these challenges, for example: utilize community assets, such as existing programs and services; build connections within the community, such as with organizations that serve your target groups; and create reciprocal connections that can sustain and reinforce equitable practices beyond the lifespan of the project. Overall, planning for equity before you start, and throughout the planning process, will help minimize some challenges and increase the opportunity for meaningful input from older adults within underrepresented groups. 

Equity is embedded within the age-friendly communities concept by bringing an age-inclusive lens to community planning. Adding the next layer of the equity lens by intentionally including underrepresented groups within the older adult population further adds to the goal of eliminating systemic barriers for older adults, leading to healthier ageing for all. This intersectional approach shifts power towards historically underrepresented older adult groups through not only hearing their voices but through truly listening and implementing changes based on their feedback. Equitable age-friendly communities planning leads to informed and cost-effective decision-making, stronger community cohesion, and impactful and sustainable changes. The result is the creation of communities that are empowering and friendly for people of all ages to live healthier lives and experience healthy aging.

Written by Amanda Dodaro, Practicum Student at BC Healthy Communities

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