Here’s a bit more on my experience walking around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in an ‘aging suit,’ with architects from Corgan as my guides.
The suit, developed in Germany and also referred to as a GERT (or Gerontological Test suit), is a collection of accessories that get attached to different areas of the body to temporarily add impairments that simulate being old – up to 30 years older than you are.
I wore spongy overshoes that made it hard to know when my feet were actually touching the floor; knee and elbow wraps, and a neck brace, to limit my movement and simulate joint stiffness; earmuffs to lower my hearing by about 10 dB; and blurred goggles to reduce my vision.
To make it even hard to walk around the airport, Michael Steiner, a senior associate at Corgan, added a heavy padded vest to my outfit, which brought the ensemble’s weight to somewhere around 30 pounds.
Wearing all that, I headed out into the terminal to experience being ‘old in an airport.’
The blurry goggles made it difficult to see which floor number to push in the elevator.
The spongy shoes made it difficult to know where I was stepping, especially when it came time to get on and off the escalator.
At baggage claim it was really difficult to lean over, grab my test suitcase and pull it up over the lip of the metal wall.
My walk through the airport was escorted, but in this age of “If you see something, say something,” here I was wearing a strange outfit that either made me look like I’d been an accident – or was out to hurt someone else – but no one approached me either to find out what I was up to – or to offer help.
True, I couldn’t quite see or hear other people with those decibel-reducing earmuffs and fuzzy goggles on, but that was exactly the point of putting the suit on in the first place, said Corgan’s Michael Steiner,
“An airport is an incredibly chaotic and busy place, even for someone who is perfectly healthy,” he said, “Take away some of the sensory inputs such as sight, hearing and mobility and couple those with a busy environment and you’ll get a different viewpoint of how someone decides to move through the space to get where they need to go.”
Or decides that they won’t bother to try to make their way through the airport at all.
(See my At the Airport column on this experience on USA TODAY)