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Manage the…..Flu?

by Louis on January 28, 2008

What is my role as an Independent Living Strategist for a homeowner client? I empower them to make and implement decisions to support and maintain their independence. I do it for a living and for personal satisfaction. I’ve never had too much trouble getting paid. No need to talk about that. But I am not always able to get the satisfaction I crave.

I try to find the reason when things don’t work. Is the house a poor candidate for modifications? Sometimes the budget is not available. It will not work if the client and I cannot establish a simpatico relationship. Maybe we don’t agree on the list of problems to be solved?

Clients quite reasonably don’t want to ‘solve’ a problem they don’t have. Yet most of clients call because they have health problems that impact their day to day activities, energy, ease of living.

The other day I met a client who has MS. Her disease progressed recently from some emotional trauma.. She is using a motorized wheelchair more than she was before this incident. She can still stand and transfer and get around with a walker over short distances. She started to bump and bang doorways and corners in her lovely home with the chair. I was called by an architect friend, Chris Snowber, to help him see what we can do to adjust turning and maneuvering spaces.

I approached the conversation suggesting we prepare not for things as they are today, current needs, but more expansively, prepare for a day when she might have the flu – feel generally bad, exhausted, but still need to be functional.

She agreed with that idea… I felt comfortable that our heads were together. I suggested we consider the position of her closet rod, a problem she had not mentioned. She stopped me cold with….”I can manage.”

Now that grabs me because I am devoted to the idea that it is silly to ‘manage’. It either works OR lets get it right. “I can manage” indicates it is not easy, and on ‘flu day’ it is much worse. My guess is on flu day it may be a real problem. If you have to dress quickly to make it on time to that one sick appointment the doctor has open, it needs to be fixed. Related design thinking can be found in this article about Michael Graves.

I see houses as plastic, malleable. Clay to be formed into the right house that meets the specific client’s real needs. My purpose is to make over client’s homes so their problems are solved. If I know there is a problem that can easily be solved but we cannot agree that it is a problem, we cannot agree to solve it. So my role as an Independent Living Strategist includes helping people find a way to recognize their solvable problems. When I cannot do that I am not satisfied.

You might say this is selfish thinking on my part. I don’t think so. I think it is mutualism. My satisfaction is knowing I have helped them. It must work for both of us or it does not work at all. When it doesn’t work where is the failing? Is it denial? Is it based in our societal prejudices, embarrassment? People just want to be normal…whatever that is. Some think these are the reasons more folks don’t prepare for Aging in Place.

Is it my poor communication skills? All in a day’s frustration for an Independent Living Strategist. Luckily, I win enough to love what I do.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jim January 30, 2008 at 1:06 pm

As a designer myself, I can appreciate your dedication to resolving conflicts between your clients’ abilities and what their environment might demand from them.
I’m sure most clients appreciate it, too.

I know you realize also, that the relationship between an individual and his/her home is more than that. That phrase, “I can manage”, might mean several very different things, e.g., an invitation (“how could you make this better?”), an affirmation (“this is one thing I WILL do for myself, flu or not”), or something very personal (“my late father installed this for me, and I’m keeping it no matter what”).

Understanding your client is a vital part of success in any business, and I’m sure you’ve had your share of each of these situations in your home modification experience.


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