Communication is key — especially with older constituents. Pam shares some lessons she’s learned along the way.
It is always interesting how we view life from our own personal lens. Having turned 60 this year I can assure you I neither relate to the term “older” and certainly not “elderly.”
I would like to introduce you to Aunt Em, Aunt Bonnie, and Sylvia because they offer examples of factors I keep in mind when interacting with and considering the policy needs of my older constituents and the necessity to communicate by using a variety of methods.
Aunt Em, age 97, has been an email user for over a decade – a somewhat late adopter but an adopter nonetheless. She receives updates from her elected officials and her political party. I was startled recently to see she’d joined Facebook. Her comments to my posts have been insightful and encouraging.
Aunt Bonnie at 89 was the opposite; barely interested in reading the paper but had many opinions on making our communities’ better places to live, work and play. Before retiring she owned a women’s boutique and once upon a time was a garment factory worker. She was certainly informed by a lifetime of her experiences.
We often discussed policy and the need to for systems and services that were easier for everyone to navigate. She said government frequently made life more difficult. Nonetheless, she believed I could, as a State Representative, do much to correct the “ills of the world.”
Sylvia, a nonagenarian, is everywhere in the community; the local senior center, a local park volunteer, active in the local historical society; a caregiver for a family member who lives outside the local community, and she is active in her church. She has more energy than most people 20 years her junior.
Sylvia gets my monthly email communications despite the fact that she doesn’t own a computer. She uses the one at her senior center and therefore may miss time-sensitive information depending on when she visits.
My point is that we all absorb information in different ways. Some of us are visual learners, others auditory, and literacy levels vary, all of which must be taken into account. I follow a few simple guidelines when dealing with my older constituents:
- I ensure that the font size and color contrast of published materials are appropriate for older eyes and that the layout is crisp and clear.
- I speak clearly and slowly when calling to remind them of events, including my monthly Town Halls.
- During those events, I speak in a manner to ensure that I am heard and watch the body language of the audience to make sure no one is struggling to hear.
Engaged citizens, regardless of age, will indeed be the result when we recognize that multiple methods of delivering a message should be utilized; this will better ensure that all will ‘Hear Me Now’ and more importantly that I will hear you.