dwp logo

Dexterity – Susan

line drawing of person

Age: 76    Height: 5ft 5ins

Lives in: London (Born in New York)

Mild osteoarthritis

Assistive aids:

Links: Case studies | Related statistics

What I can do

  • Bend down and pick something up from the floor, and then straighten up again, holding on if necessary
  • Walk up to a mile easily
  • Swim 500 metres

What I cannot do

  • Cannot manage 12 steps on my own, without holding on
  • Cannot kneel down without pain and get up again without support
  • Cannot get in and out of a low chair or sofa
  • Cannot stand still for more than 2-3 minutes
  • Cannot run or jump
  • Has difficulty in damp weather in clenching hands
  • Has difficulty turning head particularly to the right
  • Has difficulty in following a conversation if there is background noise


Photographers’ agent, business manager and picture librarian. I retired in 1994

My condition

I am 76, basically very healthy (though too fat) except for arthritis in my knees, neck and fingers. I wear glasses (bifocals) all the time for both reading and distant vision.  My hearing has begun to deteriorate somewhat in recent years.

A typical day

I wake up between 7.30 and 8am, and listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 while I get up, shower and dress.  Or, on weekend mornings when I have no commitments, I often take my breakfast back to bed on a tray and spend a lazy morning there, reading the papers or my book.

On Mondays, I go to classes at the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Tuesdays I meet a friend at 9.30am to walk the park and the rest of the day is free. I used to volunteer at a hospital shop, but my osteopath suggested I might benefit from having a weekday off.  Some Tuesday afternoons I go swimming, on others I may meet a friend for lunch, or go to a film or exhibition, or perhaps stay home to read and nap if I’m tired.

Wednesday mornings I go to a Pilates Studio, sometimes followed by two volunteer hours at a primary school helping with the sewing class for years 3 and 4.

Thursdays I walk in the park again with my Tuesday friend and we both go on to another primary school where we are volunteer Reading Partners with some of the year 5 and 6 students.  In the afternoon I go to U3A again.

On Fridays I go to a Qi Gong class and then swim with a friend.   She and I often have lunch together afterwards and then I usually go home for a nap.

Evenings and weekends I sometimes meet friends for a meal, go to an exhibition, a film, concert or the theatre.  At other times I stay home, cook for myself and watch TV.  I’m usually in bed by 11 where I read for half an hour or so before turning the light out at about midnight.

Good designs and how they improve my life

Like everyone of any age, my life is made easier and more pleasurable by good design:

Good Grips kitchen implements help me to prepare meals without accidents or my fingers aching.

My Toyota Yaris car is perfectly designed for an arthritic old lady like me: the seat is high enough so that I can slide in sideways, without having to bend and swivel my knees; the various instruments are easy to hold and conveniently located (except for the horn, which is too accessible –I honk unintentionally sometimes because the whole centre section of the steering wheel is the horn); and the signage and numerals are very clear and in easy view.  I like being higher than the people in other, lower-slung cars and the broad windscreen and back window give me an excellent view of my surroundings.  The interior detailing is very good with nice additions like the shallow shelf/cupboards above the driver and front passenger seats, perfect for holding the A to Z and guide books for easy access.

First Direct has an excellent website for its internet banking customers, simple, clear and easy to follow.  Lloyds TSB does not.  Lloyds has already had to redesign their site because of complaints. There is still a great deal of room for improvement.

My shooting stick style of cane is a boon when I go to exhibitions or gatherings where I have to stand around for any length of time.  I use it in walking stick mode on the way to and from the location, then click the triangular top section over to make it into a monopod seat to perch on when my knees start to complain.

Lessons for designers

To design for all ages and capabilities instead of just for the young, trendy and mentally and physically agile – I feel strongly that this would lead to much greater lifetime user satisfaction and a larger, more faithful clientele for designers’ products.

Poor designs and how they impact my life

Poor designs are frustrating and sometimes enraging (computer rage makes road rage look like a lullaby). They make life harder rather than easier. Here are some examples:

I wish that print designers would pay better attention to the information their texts are trying to provide.  Reducing them to small-sized lettering, often reversed out on coloured or patterned backgrounds (or just just used as tiny blocks of type in a sea of white space), often makes them illegible to me.

In the current Cabwise safety commercial on television, warning against unlicensed minicabs, I can see the ominous car interior and hear the girl’s cries of protest, but when the warning message (which I presume is delivering the point of the whole endeavour)  is printed across the center of the screen, it is reversed out and so small that I can’t read it. And they have not included a voiceover, so after several viewings I still don’t know what they’re saying.

Theatre programmes are often useless until I can get them home and look at them in a strong light, which is irritating when I want the information they contain while I’m there at the theatre.

Captions at exhibitions can be equally infuriating for people who wear glasses, often at a distance from the artwork and in a chic, subdued type size and colour that I cannot read unless I’m inches away.  Blessings on the museums who provide portable books of captions to carry around each room.

Online booking websites often defeat me and I end up ringing their telephone number instead.

Amazon, on the other hand, works a treat.

I wish that sound designers would turn the volume down or, even better, leave silence as the background from time to time.  My hearing is poorer than it used to be, but in cinemas particularly, I am always asking for the volume to be turned down or sitting with my fingers in my ears when I’m told there is nothing the management can do.  In rooms full of people talking, particular modern rooms with stark decor that lacks any absorbent material on floor, walls, windows or ceiling (and sometimes without upholstery either) the addition of ‘background’ music usually means I will leave within minutes.  There is no point in my staying because I won’t be able to hear anything anyone is saying.

I am pleased that the era of low, squashy sofas and armchairs seems to be coming to an end.  I can’t get out of them any more without either being pulled up by someone else or having to turn face down and push myself up with my arms, which is not a graceful sight.

Packaging is often a nightmare for those of us whose hands are less adept than they used to be. Sainsbury’s recently changed its method of sealing packets of cooked meats and cheeses, and though I used to be able to pull them open at the indicated corner, my fingers aren’t strong enough to get into the new versions. Frustrating – and painful, because I keep trying.

Five most important ‘things’ in my life

  • A secure home, including financial security
  • Friends and (some) relatives, here and abroad
  • Reading
  • Artistic stimulation (visual and performing arts — illustrated books, exhibitions, concerts, films, television, dance, theatre, etc)
  • Intervals of solitude

Message for designers

Involve the envisioned user at the beginning and throughout the design process, so that things that don’t work or could work better are discovered long before the design reaches the production stage.