Our Resources

Q&A with Erie County and the University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA)

Can you tell us more about Erie county government’s decision to use an universal design approach? What systems change and benefits are you hoping to see as a result of using this approach?

The universal design methodology helps build goods and develop services that can be used by all members of a population. It is only logical that any good or service developed by a government should be accessible by every person the government represents. We do not expect Erie County’s use of universal design to be a silver bullet that will bring sweeping change. Rather, it is an approach that can be used when appropriate, like racial equity, that can help make a government that represents everyone.  

How has the IDEA Center’s work been translated into practice throughout Western New York?

The IDEA Center, along with Erie County Department of Senior Services, facilitated the creation of Age Friendly Erie County, a collaborative initiative of local organizations in Western New York committed to creating a vibrant, inclusive community for residents to grow up and grow old. Erie County is a leader among AARP networks of Age Friendly Communities in New York State. The County, in partnership with the IDEA Center, was recently selected by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York as an Age Friendly Center of Excellence. The IDEA Center will serve as a resource for Erie County and other regions to encourage the implementation of the universal design process in other age friendly communities.

The Erie County government also recently incorporated universal design into its new Live Well Erie initiative, a data-driven strategy for improving health outcomes and quality of life for all. Specifically, one strategy sets a goal to integrate universal design into county-supported senior housing facilities and public spaces.

The county has drafted inclusive goals for the Live Erie initiative, with racial equity as one of the five guiding principles. How would applying these principles to practice affect the aging population?

Many older racial minorities have directly experienced systemic racism in their lives. As a direct result, they face challenges in late adulthood that differ from their contemporaries. Racial equity allows officials to be cognizant of those challenges and change systems to increase equity.

Second, the racial equity lens is not limited to use in examining racial differences; we can also use the lens to review programs and policies on behalf of any affected group. Using the racial equity lens, for example, helped us realize that many of the structures built and maintained by our government were not usable by older adults due to different physical abilities. In this instance, the use of the racial equity lens made us aware of an inequity experienced by older adults, and we discovered universal design as an approach to make correct this inequity.      

What additional partnerships are you leveraging for the county’s age-friendly vision? What role will they play in carrying it out?

Live Well Erie currently has more than 83 community partners, with approximately 15 focused on the older adult population. With our partners, we are using a results-based accountability model to accomplish three goals related to the social determinants of health:  

  1. Older Adults will be able to maintain an active and stimulating social life as they age.
  2. Erie County will be accessible to people of all ages.
  3. Older Adults will be able to maintain financial security throughout their lives.

We are working with our partners to identify ways to help us achieve these three goals by developing reinforcing and complementary activities.