Do you need copies?

by Louis on September 27, 2011

In the early and mid nineties when I was the sole home modifications focused contractor in the DC area I used to ask this question when giving presentations to consumers and more traditional senior senior providers. I was drawing a comparison to home mods as an innovation akin to the advent of the xerox machine.

Now, with Wikipedia available I realize the story I told then may be a myth. But it had the feeling of truth and helped convey my message.

” It took a long time for the fellow who invented photo-copies, to break into the market. Why? Not because people did not need copies. The market was slow to develop because people did not know they needed copies. They could not even conceive of copies. Now the question might be, Can you get along without copies?, but when he started to sell the idea of copies no one needed them. You see, back then we had ‘routing envelopes’

If you wanted to circulate a memo, you put it in a routing envelope and it would make the rounds. The teachers in my elementary school used them all the time. You left the envelope in their mail cubby or on the table in the teacher’s lounge and everyone would sign off as they read the memo. They had no need for copies mostly because they had never had any.”

My thesis was that home modifications are similar to copies back then. No one thinks they need home modifications because no one had experienced any. First of all it has not been so long that large groups of people got as old as we do now. Life expectancy was 47 at the turn of the last century and disability rates (then and now) are MUCH lower for 47 year olds than they are for 80+ year olds. Few people lived many years with chronic conditions like COPD, diabetes, Parkinsons, heart diseases and recovery from injuries such as hip fractures. So living independently at advanced age and with chronic conditions was rare. The need for home modifications was very small.

My point was, of course, people should pay attention and (hire me to) modify their homes and their client’s homes, not because it was common and typical but because it was edgy and smart.

Little has changed. People should prepare their homes if they want to remain independent. Few do.

We were using lots of copies though. Now our electronic memos admonish us not to print unless it is really necessary. I might say the same thing about moving from your home of choice and dignity. Home modifications means you won’t need to move.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jeff September 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Great analogy with the “copies” on several levels. Not knowing you have a need for something isn’t important sometimes until it’s too late. Home modifications for aging seniors is something many will need as they age if they want to remain in the same place. It is so much easier, and economical, to prepare early and spread out the modifications over time so they aren’t forced to make them all at once. And many of them make life safer and easier for people without disabilities, so it’s a win-win.

Like “copies” being displaced by the advancement of the electronic age, maybe home modifications will someday be displaced by universal design being installed at the time all new homes are built. There will still be a need for specialized modifications, but many of the simple things like grab bars, no-step entries, etc., can be built into new homes and reduce modifications later.


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