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Improving Equity in Services for Madison's Older Adults

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Growing old is difficult, and increasingly so in our modern United States; it is increasingly a lonely endeavor, your contributions forgotten and cast into isolation away from family and, many times, our wider community too. And like many ills in the United States, BIPOC and LGBTQIA populations disproportionately are underserved as they age. 


EQT by Design has been working with the City of Madison to engage BIPOC and LGBTQIA older adults in the city through surveys and focus groups about services and programming. We’re trying to learn what they feel would be programming and services to meet cultural, social, and emotional needs, and what shifts need to be made to current programming to meet those needs.


In total, 193 older adults responded to the survey, and 54 BIPOC community members engaged in a focus group. The focus groups included Mandarin, Hmong, Spanish speakers, and African Americans. Through these groups, we understood how these populations utilized Madison’s Senior Center, a city-supported center on West Mifflin Street. We just completed this work, and while it is a little early to say too much publicly, we learned quite a bit.


Even though we’re not ready to release our findings, we have some high-level observations we’d like to share. Importantly, we’re good at recognizing the young, their potential, and what they can bring. At the same time, we don’t fully understand or acknowledge the ways our older adults have and are contributing to our community. As you age, you become more vulnerable, less active, and, for most, no longer at the center of things— you end up sitting more on the periphery. 


The world becomes more narrow as you age; things like technology and transportation are essential but have become more challenging to access. Many of these things affect your independence, and we all have pride in our ability to care for ourselves. The narrowing of the world is compounded by retirement being forced upon many, or at least semi-retirement, living off a mostly fixed income.


As people age, they receive less respect and fewer accolades unless they fall into a unique box of accomplishment, such as a researcher or political leader. But in general, as a whole, we stop paying attention to our older adults as a community. And while this might not be true about some family units, it holds as a society as a whole. These are people who, in their heyday, did a lot, a lot of themselves, their families, and their communities; now they want things to be taken care of, to be as healthy as they can be, to still have relevance in society, to be as independent as possible, and to be treated with respect— and this does not sound like an unreasonable ask. 


Now that we have good data, our guiding question is how do we use it to create well-being for our older adults? How we create that well-being will be publicly released soon, and we’re excited to share it with you all when it is. 


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