Thursday, March 9, 2017

"Communication Requires Understanding, So What About Unclear Expressions?"

Hopefully no one would dispute that communication requires the the delivery (hearing or seeing) of a message and the understanding, processing, or comprehension of it before it can be understood as it was offered. What about those times when the message can be interpreted more than one way, when someone doesn't have the requisite background to understand the tone or subtly of a message, or when a word or phrase isn't as clear as it could and should be?

As aging in place professionals, we have to do an assessment or evaluation of a space, we have to determine why it isn't working particularly well for our clients, what they feel is needed to help them, their budget, their desired outcome, and other attributes of envisioning, designing, and completing a project.

There are many indefinite words that we use in attempting to communicate with someone, and there is absolutely no way an effective understanding can result. For instance, if a guideline or standard calls for "sufficient" space in a certain area of the home or to accommodate a particular activity or type of movement, just how much space are we talking about? Just what constitutes "sufficient?" Is it the same for everyone? Likely not because people have different spatial needs and physical requirements.

"Adequate" is a similar term that can means different things to the people involved - us, our strategic partners, our clients, and their close family, neighbors, or advisors.

When our clients express the need for "plenty" of windows or shelf space, what does that really mean and do we quantify it? Do we start with what they have as being inadequate and go from there? Is there some some standard that we are supposed to be aware of and use (unlikely since all designs are individual and personal)?

"Satisfactory" is a term that is dependent upon people's viewpoint, life experiences, and specific needs. How well something expresses a solution to a perceived or expressed need is going to vary by the individual person and living space.

A similar term is "average" as in allowing or requiring an average space, size, or area for reach. movement, or use. Clearly, there are many averages based on people's physical size and abilities and whether they are seated or standing as they attempt to accomplish various functions within the home.

"Normal" is a relative term also. When we are talking about someone's normal range of motion, field of vision, ability to see or hear something, or sensitivity to physical stimuli, are we talking about what is typical or expected at a young age, and advanced age, or the age of our client? Are we talking about what is "typical" rather than what is normal - again, allowing for a wide range of possible responses?

When we wonder if something is large "enough" or roomy "enough" or there are "enough" of something provided, are we looking at our expectations, the client's needs, the ability of the space to accommodate it, or what a guideline suggest should be present - or a combination of these variables?

There are other terms, phrases, and expressions that we use that similarly may be vague or hard to quantify or interpret because they are based on various perceptions or expectations. While it may be difficult for us to eliminate these words completely from our vocabulary, let's focus on saying exactly what we mean and need to have present in a design to accommodate our clients.

Budget, space requirements or constraints, personal preference, and individual needs are going to affect how adequate, satisfactory, plentiful, or sufficient a particular solution is going to be. 

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.