Hands-on ‘Interaction Lab’ at Southglenn Library offers strategies for aging in place

4 min. read
Arapahoe Libraries Executive Director Oliver Sanidas on the screen of a Facebook Portal in the Interaction Lab, an exhibition at the Southglenn branch on strategies to make homes comfortable and accessible for all ages and abilities. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Arapahoe Libraries had the space and a knack for displaying cool technology. The city of Centennial had the research on community issues.

They've collaborated on a new, hands-on exhibition at the library system's Southglenn branch. When you enter the Interaction Lab exhibition, you first encounter a short video produced by the city that explains that the 600-square-foot gallery has been devoted to showcasing design and technological strategies for helping people of all ages and all abilities live comfortably in their homes for as long as possible.

A second video by the city explains the principles that inform Interaction Lab: the universal design strategies that create products and spaces that work for all kinds of people, prioritize safety and health and are easy to operate.

Then, you get to the cool stuff. A Beam robot that looks like a video screen on a sleek scooter and can be used to allow someone to remotely tour the lab, receiving images from a camera as the scooter roams and being "present" via the screen.  A Google Home Hub system that responds to voice commands that visitors can use, for example, to turn down the lights in Interaction Lab. An Amazon Echo Show to turn the lights back up. A Facebook Portal that allows hands-free video calls to another screen located just outside in the Southglenn Library's sun-filled great room.

Anthony White, manager of Web systems for Arapahoe Libraries, examines some of the equipment that can be used by visitors to Interaction Lab, an exhibition at the Southglenn branch on strategies to make homes comfortable and accessible for all ages and abilities. (Donna Bryson/Denverite)

Oliver Sanidas, executive director of Arapahoe Libraries, said the Interaction Lab evolved from a conversation at the library about what to do with little used space next to Southglenn's recording studio, which is equipped with software and equipment for patrons who want to make video and sound recordings.

"We always like to display new tech," Sanidas said.

City staff were brought into the conversation. They shared research done after Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko and the city council requested a study of how the region's population could best prepare for aging. That's where universal design came in, said Paul Gunther, a designer for the city's innovation team.

Gunther said the research included a review of who was requesting permits for home renovations. Most are in their 40s or mid-50s, when they might not be thinking about aging in place but could be encouraged to do simple things like make sure they have studs in the bathroom where a grab-rail could one day be installed.

"No matter how old you are, it's good to plan for the future," said city spokeswoman Allison Wittern.

Interaction Lab is located just off the library's children's section. It's easy to imagine a toddler drawn by the bright lights -- and a low table stocked with crayons -- being followed in by a young parent preparing to bring a grandparent to live with the family.

"We did want this to be a space that could be interacted with by people of all ages," Sanidas said. "Our demographic is really zero to whoever's the oldest in the community."

In the lab now, a mural on one wall looks like a life-size plan for an accessible kitchen. Among its depictions is a low counter where someone in a wheelchair could prep dinner, a reminder that cool tech isn't the answer to every problem. Designers plan to focus on other rooms in the future -- a bathroom, a bedroom. The display will be up at least through the end of the year.

Arrow Electronics, Colorado State University and Denver South Economic Development Partnership also collaborated on the lab. Gunther said other private partners might be brought in to, for example, build out some of the ideas now confined to the mural.

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