Your luxury is someone else’s accessibility

I had to wake up extra early today to do some chaffeuring tasks for one of my aunts — that’s what you have to do when you’re taking care of elderly folks, among others — and ended up not taking a nap (the ‘housekeeping‘ of brains) the entire day. I resumed to read A Gentleman in Moscow today, gleefully underlining the words and sentiments and literary references, and deciding to forgo the urge to track my time in my Toggl app as I always did as a way to track the amount of time I do things everyday. It’s almost obsessive.

Today I discover that on average, 33% of Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep and an alarming 70% of British people get less than 7 hours of sleep on a daily basis. I have no idea of the average hours of sleep of less than something something hours Malaysians get every day, and I could safely attest I am part of the percentage. I always told others how envious I am of people who would fall asleep the moment they place their heads on the pillow, for I could not. I might also be envious of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, who upon drinking a magic tonic in the Catskills Mountains, woke up 20 years later to find the Revolutionary War had ended, his wife had passed, and his kids all grown up. There was also a joke that we Malaysians made about a man who fell into a coma in 2003, when Mahathir was still our 4th Prime Minister, and woke up this year to find out that 93-year-old Mahathir is still in reign (he actually reassumed his office as the 7th Prime Minister after our 14th general elections in May 2018 — there was like a whole kosher, but nothing less than sensational, Game of Thrones happening).

I also discovered once I was an accidental polyphasic sleeper. Most people are monophasic sleepers, where we sleep in one big chunk and another chunk of wakefulness. But some people are also biphasic or polyphasic sleepers, where their sleep is divided into two or multiple smaller chunks per day. It was said to be the favourites of superachievers such as Nikola Tesla and Leonardo Da Vinci, and was often heard within the compound of bragging rights of tech bros (as far as those I have known) as a way to ‘hack their bodies to achieve maximum productivity’. If you think it sounds like bollocks it’s because it is, and also because there is very little data to back up the theory that polyphasic sleep enhances anything within the human system. The reason I said I was an accidental polyphasic sleeper was because somewhere in 2013, I was doing my MA full time and working full time at the same time, and these two were achieved within two different timezones. It felt like having a superpower to be able to do that at that point of time, but as your body ages it would take a toll on your health (living specimen: me), so I wouldn’t personally encourage it unless there is no choice whatsoever.

Two days ago WITI shared some thoughts on empathy and accessibility in its gerontology edition. As an able-bodied person, I have read so many accounts of places, products, and practices disregarding thoughts or courtesy for old people and people who have disabilities. My elderly mother personally experienced this in airports, where the hallways to the departing gates stretch miles and there were not always buggies available whenever they (old people and people who have disabilities) need one. I am all for this initiative by this architecture firm, who designed a 30-pound suit which ages the researchers and designers 40 years just by donning it.

Samantha Flores and Mike Steiner with the Dallas-based architecture firm Corgan each donned the suit — which weighs about 30 pounds and adds four simulated decades — in public settings like an airport to better understand the challenges elderly people face simply moving around.

They say the idea behind the experience is to apply that firsthand understanding to make their building designs more empathetic and accessible.

“One of the things that we really took away from the staff that ran through the scenarios is that having the hearing and the sight losses is really isolating,” Steiner tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “So even though I was at the airport [and] I did not have a flight to catch, I couldn’t understand half of the announcements. The losses that you have can be a little bit overwhelming.”

Some other related reads:

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