May 11, 2017
In late March I attended the Aging in America Conference, which is hosted by the American Society on Aging. I’ve attended the conference twice in the past, and it is among my favorite professional development activities. Last year I presented a poster session about working caregivers in the African American community. I met so many new faces from different states who are dedicated to the field of Aging. We engaged in some rich and motivating conversations about caregiving and intersectionality. I felt really empowered to continue my work.
I had planned to present again this year, this time along with a colleague. But due to some short term health related concerns, we decided to put it on the back burner. Still, I was eager to attend, especially with it being held in my home city of Chicago. While I loved visiting Washington, DC last year, I did not love the airport chaos (that’s a story for a different blog, on a different day). I was more than happy to commute downtown everyday for a week.
The first day felt lackluster. I was prepared to rant about the lack of workshop options. But then I thought, “if I do that I’ll fail to acknowledge how hard all of the presenters worked“. I’d also be failing to mention some of the illuminating presentations given around difference.
Two of my colleagues and I walked around the Hyatt Hotel like we built it, and sought out presentations that we felt would push us to think more deeply about the people we serve. We don’t know everything and we recognize the responsibility the ethical and legal responsibility we have to treat everyone fairly. Plus, we love what we do. And we want to educate ourselves, and to help educate others.
This year’s offerings included a number of discussions about older adults who identify as LGBTQ. There were also some really great presentations on the rise of male caregivers and caring for Native American elders.
Next year I’d love to see more panel discussions because I believe that lived experience is often the best teacher. Some of the most poignant and paradigm shifting information I’ve ever learned has come from simply listening to someone tell their story.
In the spirit of continuing with the #YearOftheCaregiver, I want to push on some of you to come forth and share your wealth of knowledge. You don’t need to have a fancy job title or an advanced degree to teach. You can make a powerful contribution to the field. And you could send a message to policy makers and other decision makers that improvements in caregiver services are a must.
Aging is a process that affects us all. If you live, you will age. And so it’s important that we hear a diversity of voices so that we can begin to understand first hand how people are being affected by systems and policies that we take for granted everyday.
American Society on Aging offers some great resources, and I think they’re moving in the right direction in terms of bringing to light some of the issues within the aging community. There is still work to do though. Having the ability to travel to conferences like this one is often a luxury that people from marginalized groups cannot afford. So ASA must do a better job of outreach to professionals from all backgrounds. We cannot afford their silence.