Monday, June 11, 2007

Words We Don’t Use At Capabilities

Recently, someone made the comment after reading one of our brochures how interesting it was that we don’t speak about people of a certain age as “seniors,” “elderly,” or the “geriatric” crowd. Others have remarked that we also don’t often speak about Capabilities as being a “medical equipment” store, or a place with “durable medical equipment.” Why is that? While there is nothing inherently wrong with those words, or others that describe physical disabilities or the aging process, we are in the process of reinventing not only the language to describe all this, but the ways to manage the changes that occur with time and circumstance.

As we planned Capabilities, we envisioned something very different. We imagined a place with something for everyone, regardless of age and ability, a place where we did not categorize people into age groups or disabilities. We pictured rather a place where all would feel welcomed and where we would offer a broad array of products for health, mobility and comfort. We also did a bit of our own research and found that many people don’t enjoy being called “seniors,” even though they accept fully their own aging process. Our own mothers, for example, shrieked at anyone calling them “elderly.” Maybe it’s that our culture stopped appreciating and honoring “elders” at some point. Other cultures, for example, hold the older generation in a place of high esteem, respecting the wisdom that comes from many years. Our culture, it seems, devalues us as we grow older. So, common words that should not be so full of potentially negative meaning, such as “senior,” “elder,” “older adult” have taken on too much symbolism that makes many of us feel not so comfortable.

We thought a lot about this as we put our plans for Capabilities together. We wanted to create a space where everyone would feel welcomed. As a result, when it came time to print brochures and describe Capabilities, we did not feel comfortable using some of the common words you will find others using. In fact, our name alone – Capabilities – came from the passion we felt about focusing on the abilities we all have, regardless of circumstance. Our tag line, “Be Unlimited,” came from the inspiration we both got from having known so many diverse people, some of whom have overcome great challenges.

We meet business people all the time who are struggling with what to call their services, having originally chose to put the word, “senior,” in their business name. AARP, for example, just uses the acronym. They no longer describe the organization as the American Association of Retired Persons. They also have changed their newsletter and magazine, featuring people of all ages, including those still in their 40s. Other organizations, too, are experiencing push back as people resist some of the labels that have grown up around them. As Baby Boomers age (one wonders if those of us in this generation will always be called “Boomers?”), it is a certainty that they do not want to have the stereotypes that have emerged about growing old foisted upon them. (Who does, we ask?) So, teams of marketers and others are sitting around conference tables dreaming up commercials like the ones you are seeing now. You know, like the one with Dennis Hopper, holding the dictionary, reading the definition of “retirement.” He flings that dictionary and says that this generation is reinventing retirement. And so it is that we are reinventing the type of place where you can shop for all kinds of products that bring relief, comfort and independence. We call them “lifestyle” products to accommodate all kinds of ways our lives change. You’ll feel the difference whether you come into our store, or go online.

It’s clearly time to create some new words, don’t you think? What are some of your thoughts about how we refer to the various generations, and whether we can invent new ways to talk about aging? How do we create ways to soften the edges between the generations, in reality and in the language we use? It’s unlikely we will all live together as generations did in earlier times and in other cultures. So, what will be our equivalent of blending families and generations?

Please tell us your thoughts.

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