Caught Out! Unwitting Ageism – About Chairs!


With great delight I am about to pull the legs of some super young people.

But the main reason for this blog is that we all learned something important.

Last week I met with two of the UKs top groups working in the field of Ageing. Both run great activities, give advice, help and organise befriending. And both have links with the Age Friendly movement in their areas.

The first group gave me lovely lunch in the garden of a churchyard converted to an older peoples centre. We discussed the Age Proud project they are launching in October. It will run for a year. You can guess how ideas flowed. It was such fun.

After lunch we returned to their office and I was given a seat in their reception area.

The seat looked like this:


Except that the seat was much lower… just the height that chairs and sofas start shrinking to when you pass 70!

The impossible to get up from without arms height.

And there were no arms. Not even a side table. Nothing to push up from at all.



Stranded!  Beached whale feeling. But that rapidly turned to chuckles.

I have to ask for help to get up from a chair in the office of an organisation that espouses Age Friendly places!”  

Lovely….However what was really interesting was that it had never occurred to them.

A similar thing happened when I met the next group.  We talked in a standard meeting room, the usual big table and stackable chairs – no arms of course. Didn’t really matter because you could always lean forward and push up on the table.

But again, once challenged about it, they too had never thought of it.

Maybe I should say realised?  Because you don’t, do you, when you are young?  Standing up is just automatic isn’t it? And you cant yet imagine what being old feels like.

That was the moment. That moment when light dawns.


Do you remember that old saying.

You can’t put an old head on young shoulders” ?

Had never understood before how correct it is.  I had always thought it was about learning from experience. Rather a moral preachy sort of saying.  And is usually used that way isn’t it?

But the big click for me was the realisation that it isn’t just about lifetime experience is it?  It can also be about our current experience ie.  The actual experience of living  in a body that has changed with age.

When we are 40 we know what it was like to be a teenager. We  were there.

But we dont know what being 75+ feels like do we? How can we?

Our only clues are by observation and listening.

Lets go back to the chairs.

As you age you find yourself moving on a different automatic system about chairs.  You become aware of seat height and quite quickly internalise the permanent question. –  “How will I get up from that!”

Look at this;


These were the chairs in the sitting area of a famous Glasgow Hotel. Both low and armless!

We went there with a party of 80 year olds, twenty of us, celebrating a University reunion! Everyone complained. But to each other, not to the hotel. The hotel management stayed in happy ignorance.  No idea that their unthinking decor was not friendly to millions of people.

How could they know if we who have got there, experienced older joints,  dont tell them?

Now look at these:

Public seating!  But for whom?

And this, sloping seats in an underground station!

AE8AE6DC-988F-491A-8658-6E2041F81814Thinking about preventing some social disorder?

And actually creating a significant problem for the many older people who need to sit down.

That kind of sloping prop seat doesn’t work with rusty knees! And arms would be lovely…




Conclusion?  We are all being unthinking!  

People who know what ageing knees need must tell designers.   How else would they know they are missing out millions of the population? Our job!  

Younger people need to wake up to their own as yet unimagined future!

Time to talk and plan public space decor together?  For all our futures.










  1. August 11, 2019 / 9:58 am

    Thank you for this post it is so true. I think because the designers are all young people and have no idea what it is like for an older person to get up from a low seat.
    Having had knee replacement I was very worried that I would never be able to get up from the floor again because I do yoga. Then it was explained to me by my yoga teacher that you can ( using “head down dog”).
    It would be good if you could explore this in one of your posts because it is a fly that you can’t get up from the floor after knee replacement.
    And you don’t have to be a yoga fan to do it.

    • August 11, 2019 / 10:00 am

      Typo error.. It should read “it is a fallacy that etc”

  2. eremophila
    August 11, 2019 / 10:12 am

    Yes Joyce, all very well put. Also, it’s not just about aging, as anyone can acquire a short or longer term issue with poor design that impacts on mobility.

  3. August 11, 2019 / 10:33 am

    Imagine four over eighties in a row on a church pew. Time to stand. We all grab the back of the pew in front of us. The youngsters in front vacate their seats. Disaster as we older ones
    pull the damned thing over.

  4. Pauline
    August 11, 2019 / 12:27 pm

    An interesting post, and an interesting reply from gettinoabit, I have not had any knee replacements but I did fracture the tibial plateau on my left knee three years ago. I did regular gym and recuperated all the muscle, but I could hardly bend my knee. So many movements that were easy before I just couldn’t manage and I was using my right leg as a prop to get out of low chairs, climb stairs etc. Fed up with being one-sided, this summer I decided to try Pilates, and what do,you know, after just ten sessions I have regained almost full flexibility of my knee/leg, amazing !!

  5. August 11, 2019 / 1:05 pm

    Oh my gosh, you said it beautifully. How often do we older ones struggle with what the younger crowd forces upon us!

  6. jemima
    August 11, 2019 / 8:05 pm

    excellent points.
    and i don’t want to diversify or dilute
    but sometimes it’s not “just” the design of the chair
    it’s its existence!
    i’m currently recovering from an operation, and finding the world a more frightening place than before.
    to effect my recovery i need to get out into the world … take part in it … use rather than lose my walking abilities.
    but where are the chairs … benches … anything … to sit and rest for a few moments … before trundling on to the next resting point (chair)?
    i’ve noticed that there are less chairs, eg in railway stations etc. presumably the people in charge want to save those few inches (centimetres) of space? or is it to force us all to visit the multitude of chain coffee/tea houses?
    i just need to SIT for a moment or two!

    you’re so right … we need to tell these “people in charge”. we have a huge job ahead of us.

  7. Laura Pigg
    August 12, 2019 / 9:10 pm

    LOL I thought it was just me! If I can’t find something sturdy or scream loud enough for a neighbor to rescue me, I am sunk. More than once I have had to get down on all fours (fall) crawl across whatever surface to get to some sturdy upright to pull myself up. Might as well laugh at myself!

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