SARASOTA, Fla. (March 16, 2016) – Dr. Kathy Black, a USF Sarasota-Manatee professor of social work and gerontology, is set to leave next month for Geneva, Switzerland, to address a committee of the World Health Organization.
Dr. Black is planning a talk about Age-Friendly Sarasota, the multi-partner initiative to make Sarasota County friendlier for people across their lifespans. Dr. Black heads the initiative.
“They want to hear about our experiences thus far and about our community assets,” said Dr. Black, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the nation in recent months to tout the program.
Dr. Black said she’s honored by the invitation, which came after meeting a liaison from the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities during a national conference on aging last fall in Washington, D.C.
“I look forward to discussing Age-Friendly Sarasota and the broader movement worldwide with our international partners,” she said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designates communities as “age-friendly” and oversees a network linking them. Communities joining the network make a commitment to become more age-friendly and share their experiences with others. Sarasota County joined the network early last year.
Locally, the initiative is analyzing results from focus groups and surveys of residents 50 and older about their views toward aging and suggestions on how the county and other agencies can better accommodate folks across their lifespans, but particularly as they age.
The surveys touched on transportation, housing, outdoor spaces and other areas of life. More than 1,100 respondents participated. Dr. Black said she’s combing through the results now and will disseminate them to the public in upcoming months.
The effort is supported by The Patterson Foundation in partnership with AARP Florida, USF Sarasota-Manatee, Sarasota County government, the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging at USF and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
“A lot of other age-friendly communities are very interested in our work,” said Dr. Black. “To be successful you have to have a very strong community component. That’s important. Another big part is raising awareness.”
To that end, Age-Friendly Sarasota last year conducted 70 activities locally with more than 2,600 people in attendance.
Dr. Black said she’s especially excited that since Age-Friendly Sarasota was established, the county has incorporated age-friendly principles into its comprehensive plan to guide future development. Additionally, commissioners have approved a voluntary certification program for age-friendly, universal design standards for building.
These efforts, years in the making, are “huge” as the age-friendly campaign gains momentum, said Dr. Black, noting that builders play a vital role in producing age-friendly houses and commercial spaces.
Front-loading these changes and others during initial construction phases is much less expensive than retrofitting homes and other structures, she said. Even seemingly minor enhancements, such as installing an extra-wide door for wheelchairs, can dramatically impact people’s lives.
Local contractors seeking to make age-friendly buildings can turn to Sarasota County for guidelines.
Dr. Black said she’s set to address the WHO’s “Ageing and Life Course Team” on April 11.
“It is truly an honor to work with our terrific partners and this wonderful community as we strive to create a community for all ages, a community that will improve life for everyone,” she said.