A Livable Lesson

How to Create a "Handy Tools" Display

Certain household utensils and gadgets can be very helpful to older adults — if they know which ones to look for and how to use them

 

A woman and two men pose beside a display of handy household tools, including the AARP HomeFit Guide.

Volunteers in Bowdoinham, Maine, pose with the "handy tools" display and a copy of the very handy AARP HomeFit Guide. — Photo courtesy Advisory Committee on Aging, Bowdoinham, Maine

Early in 2015, an older gentleman in Bowdoinham, Maine, asked the town's coordinator of older adult services where he could buy a jar opener similar to the one he remembered his mother using.

Arthritis was making it difficult for him to open jars and cans. Looking for the right opener, he searched department stores, hardware stores, drug stores and cooking shops without success.

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Trying to help, the coordinator Googled "jar openers" on her computer, read the information and reviews about several of them and then ordered three styles of jar openers. After the packages arrived, the man took the openers home to test and report back about which opener worked best for him.

Inspired by the inquiry, members of Bowhoindon's Advisory Committee on Aging (ACOA) — which consists of seven community members appointed by the town's leadership — had started to look for simple devices (medication boxes, no-tie shoelaces, strobe-light doorbells and smoke detectors) that could be helpful to the town's older residents. Those residents were also asked to identify problems in need of solutions and recommend products they had found useful.

The collective efforts and experiences inspired ACOA to create a "Tool Table" display of gadgets, utensils and hardware that can make everyday life a little easier. Patricia Oh, Bowdoinham's older adults service coordinator, and Peter Morelli of AARP Maine explain how that was done. Melissa Stanton, AARP Livable Communities

WHAT: An Educational "Tool Table" Display

WHERE

Located about 30 miles northeast of Portland, Maine, Bowdoinham (population 2,889) is a rural community where the median age is 41.8 and about 20 percent of the citizenry is 60 or older. Bowdoinham is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

WHY AND FOR WHOM

By displaying household, personal care and automobile-specific items that can be especially helpful for older adults, people can learn about useful tools, try different devices and decide what to buy.

THE TIMELINE

The town's "Tool Table" planning began in February 2015, and the collected tools were displayed in June at an open house hosted by the Bowdoinham Public Library and Bowdoinham Historical Society. At the event the tools were displayed on two 8-foot-long conference tables. It became quickly obvious that a more space-efficient display was needed. Four volunteers accepted the design challenge. Before summer's end the chosen display unit for showcasing the tools took up semipermanent residence at the Bowdoinham Town Office.

THE PROCESS

STEP 1: IDENTIFYING SUPPORT

Bowdoinham's Advisory Committee on Aging presented the tool table idea to the town's Select Board, which is a group of five elected representatives who serve as a town council. The board's chair, who happens to be a retired vice president of the disability insurance provider UNUM, arranged for a visit with the company's rehabilitation specialists to brainstorm and gather ideas. UNUM agreed to provide ongoing technical assistance with the project and connected ACOA with funding sources, which were needed for purchasing tools.

STEP 2: IDENTIFYING THE TOOLS

Based on conversations with UNUM as well as with community members, ACOA created a seven-page printed catalog (right) that describes more than 30 tools, lists the prices and where and how to buy each item. Since many of Bowdoinham's older residents do not use the Internet, prefer to use cash rather than credit cards and/or want to shop locally, ACOA made arrangements with the owner of Bowdoinham Hardware  to keep the catalog in the store and place orders for customers seeking the nonmedical items.

STEP 3: DESIGNING THE TOOL TABLE

Since ACOA needed to figure out a way to display the more than 30 tools it had gathered, community volunteers with a background in design and construction were recruited for the task. The display's design needed to be:

  • Simple, visually appealing and easy to construct and transport
  • Heavy-duty enough to allow all of the tools to be displayed
  • Accessible to people using a wheelchair
  • Flexible enough to allow for a changing arrangement of tools or varying sizes
  • Clearly visible in ambient lighting (so it couldn't include, for instance, shelves that might make it harder for passersby to see the tools)
  • Usable without electricity
  • Suitable for any of the standard-sized tables available today
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