Many different groups of people are subject to stereotypes—the generalization of certain characteristics (either positive or negative) to all members of that group. Positive stereotypes (e.g., “older and wiser”) may provide a benefit to the relevant groups. However, negative stereotypes of aging and of disability continue to persist and, in some cases, remain socially acceptable. Research has shown that when exposed to negative images of aging, older persons demonstrate poor physical and cognitive performance and function, while those who are exposed to positive images of aging (or who have positive self-perceptions of aging) demonstrate better performance and function (Hausdorff et al., 1999; Hess et al., 2002; Levy, 2003; Levy et al., 2014). Furthermore, an individual’s expectations about and perceptions of aging can predict future health outcomes (Levy et al., 2002, 2006, 2009). These effects are due in part to stereotype threat, a term that refers to how simply being a member of a group that faces a negative stereotype in a particular domain can undermine one’s performance in that domain. Individuals with disabilities also face stereotypes that affect their lives. For example, these individuals are often perceived as being weak, dependent, and incompetent,
1 The planning committee’s role was limited to planning the workshop, and the Proceedings of a Workshop was prepared by the workshop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. Statements, recommendations, and opinions expressed are those of individual presenters and participants and are not necessarily endorsed or verified by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and they should not be construed as reflecting any group consensus.
which can affect their employment opportunities (Colella and Varma, 1999; Louvet, 2007; Nario-Redmond, 2010). Stereotypes about aging and disability can also affect how various industries portray and interact with older adults and individuals with disabilities, which, combined with the effects of stereotype threat, can cause a vicious cycle by which negative stereotypes continue to be promulgated (Mason et al., 2010; Miller et al., 1999, 2004; Parshar and Devanathan, 2006; Schwartz et al., 2010).
To better understand how stereotypes affect older adults and individuals with disabilities, the Health and Medicine Division along with the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies), with support from AARP, convened a public workshop on October 10, 2017, at the Parsons School of Design in New York.2 The Forum on Aging, Disability, and Independence (the forum) hosted the workshop. The forum is an ongoing activity of the National Academies that meets regularly to discuss how to support independence and community living for people with disabilities and older adults.
An ad hoc committee (see Box 1-1 for the committee’s statement of task) planned and designed the workshop to meet the following objectives:
2 Meeting space was provided by The New School’s Parsons School of Design.
- Summarize the state of the knowledge and the gaps in knowledge about the impact of stereotypes and stereotype threat on older adults and adults with disabilities.
- Highlight successful campaigns that have changed public discourse for other stereotypes and how they might apply to disrupting negative stereotypes of aging and disability and mitigate their effects.
- Explore effective communication, education, and system design strategies for aging and disability, with attention to media, marketing, and other industries.
- Identify sustainable interventions that promote and support psychological and physical resilience in older adults and adults with disabilities.
Under National Academies guidelines, workshops are designed as convening activities and do not result in any formal findings, conclusions, or recommendations. Furthermore, the workshop proceedings reflect what transpired at the workshop and do not present any consensus views of the planning committee or workshop participants. The purpose of this proceedings is to capture important points raised by the individual speakers and workshop participants. Speaker presentation slides are also available on the workshop website.3
In her introductory comments at the workshop, forum co-chair Terry Fulmer, the president of The John A. Hartford Foundation, reminded the workshop participants that the forum focuses on the commonalities between aging and disability. “We know that people age and become disabled, or people with disabilities age,” she said. “So there is our intersection and our nexus.” Forum co-chair Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the director of the Center for Public Research on Aging at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, added that over the last several years the forum has looked at a variety of substantive programmatic, organizational, scientific, and analytical issues related to aging and disability. However, he said, “whatever we might do might be inhibited if we cannot change how we are viewed.”
Burak Cakmak, the dean of the School of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design, said that the school’s curriculum challenges students to reinvent the fashion design process so as to place the human being at
3 See http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Activities/Aging/AgingDisabilityForum/2017-OCT-10.aspx (accessed November 10, 2017).
the center of the process and encourages unusual collaborations in order to effect positive social change and break down stereotypes. These new conversations can expand the possibilities for what design can be and can create enormous potential for increasing the diversity of people that fashion can serve. As such, he said, the workshop represents “an exciting opportunity for all of us to rethink the potential of how fashion design education and the sciences, nonprofits, and public policy–focused organizations can all work toward a common goal to address critical social issues.”
Jonathan Stevens, the senior vice president of thought leadership at AARP, challenged the workshop participants to reflect on what they think about when they hear the word “aging.” He said that it is natural for most people to lean toward negative concepts (e.g., wrinkles, decline, gray) rather than positive ones (e.g., creativity, innovation, possibility). Stevens also said that the way we are aging is changing and that while what older adults want and need is changing, the world around them is not responding to that challenge as quickly, efficiently, or respectfully as it could. Because of this, he said, AARP seeks to disrupt aging—that is, to address stereotypes about how we live and age and, ultimately, to change the conversation in order to help people understand that with longer lives come more opportunities and possibilities. Stevens said that together we can work to reframe aging to include innovation, social engagement, growth, and new opportunities.
An independent planning committee (see the list of committee members) organized the workshop (see Appendix A for the agenda) in accordance with the procedures of the National Academies. This publication describes the presentations and discussions that occurred during the workshop. Generally, each speaker’s presentation is reported in a section attributed to that individual. Chapter 2 recaps the keynote presentation by Liz Jackson on the concept of choice that provided a foundation for the remainder of the workshop’s discussions. Chapter 3 examines the scientific evidence about stereotypes of older adults and people with disabilities and the impacts of those stereotypes. Chapter 4 considers issues of disrupting stereotypes in practice and also looks to lessons learned from interventions for other stereotypes. Chapters 5 and 6 summarize moderated discussions among individuals working in the media (Chapter 5) and in design (Chapter 6) about the challenges they faces and their roles in helping to disrupt stereotypes. Chapter 7 presents the concluding remarks of the planning committee chair. Appendix A
presents the workshop agenda and Appendix B provides biographical sketches for all of the workshop speakers and moderators.
In accordance with the policies of the National Academies, the workshop did not attempt to establish any conclusions or recommendations about needs and future directions, focusing instead on issues identified by the speakers and workshop participants. In addition, the planning committee’s role was limited to planning the workshop. Workshop rapporteurs Caroline M. Cilio and Tracy A. Lustig prepared this workshop proceedings as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop.
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