Never, ever in a marketing brochure would you see residents using either of these aids, and yet I encounter them on 50% of my projects.
If you have a child or have ever been in a daycare and seen six babies sitting at a semicircular table being fed, it’s unsettling. The assembly line image of one caregiver to six children with the caregiver shoveling food into their mouths in the most efficient manner possible tops even the black and white films of old where kids in the orphanage are lined up taking spoonfuls of cod liver oil.
On the other hand, sippy cups for children are not derogatory and allow them rare independence. They can run, jump, and never get yelled at all the while grasping their sippy cups and being continuously hydrated.
In long-term care, both of these aids tend to be seen as derogatory. Adult sippy cups have not been designed to have an adult look—instead they are a larger version of a child’s sippy cup, which creates an issue of dignity. We know that it’s possible to make them look great or Starbucks would not be selling them for a profit.
Feeding tables, meanwhile, happen when staffing is too low to attend to high-need residents. Designers can help greatly in creating an efficient space for staff to assist residents at meal time without the assembly line feel and look. Typically, a low dinner counter with access for the caregiver to be seated on the opposite side of the residents is the preferred look. However, not more than three residents at a time can usually sit at this type of counter.
Designers should start demanding more age-appropriate aids for residents to maintain their dignity and independence. I am convinced there's a market for these items and that product designers would invest in manufacturing items that assist residents while retaining a dignified look.
We need to go back to our design roots and not stop at the walls, floors, and furniture. We need to look at the entire package and how we can assist in the product design of those we serve to make their lives and their family’s lives better.