The number 5698 could become one of the most important numbers ever counted in Illinois. No, it won’t win the Illinois Lottery, but it just might make life in Illinois more livable and equitable — for everybody.

House Bill 5698 was recently sponsored by state representatives Kam Buckner, Barbara Hernandez, Maurice West and Dagmara Avelar. It is the brainchild of Health & Medicine Policy Research Group and Illinois Aging Together.

HB 5698 is part of a growing statewide movement for aging equity, engineered by Illinois Aging Together. This type of campaign has shown positive results in other states, including Colorado and California. 

There are two basic ideas behind HB 5698. One is to have the state of Illinois develop and adopt a long-term Strategic Action Plan for Aging. The other is to expose and dismantle ageism and to uphold and celebrate the values, meaning and contributions of post-adulthood life.

To accomplish these goals, HB 5698 will establish an Aging Equity Planning Commission, to be co-chaired by the Governor’s Office and the Illinois Department on Aging. This commission will develop specific proposals to help Illinois government successfully navigate and lead through our relatively-new, rapidly-aging demographic.

The organization and policies we have in place for aging were developed when most people retired at 65 and died a few years later. Today that “few years later” is now 25-30 years. Hopefully, the commission will be able to think outside the box and transcend bureaucracy. But just doing more of what we’ve been doing for the past 60 years definitely will not suffice.

We live in a system of prejudice and inequity that thinks poor people are stupid and expendable, minimizes and shames women, pities and smirks at physical/mental differences, and arrogantly and violently de-humanizes people of color. Ageism makes older people stupid, ashamed, laughed at and barely tolerated as well. We need to dismantle ageism and promote equitable aging throughout the life course. 

No matter how many years we’ve been alive, we are all aging.

Along with thinking outside the box, a future Aging Equity Planning Commission will need to think beyond “age-friendly.” The main focus of the age-friendly framework is to foster community that is welcoming, accessible, inclusive and responsive to older people. 

Don’t get me wrong, I support and applaud the age-friendly approach, which is rightfully getting traction all around the world. It has been a huge step forward. However, we need to shift from age-friendly, which primarily focuses on older people, to a longevity-ready, life course perspective. Let’s act from the moment children are born, instead of reacting to the needs and harm at the time they reach older age.

This longevity-ready perspective can make life in Illinois more livable and more equitable — for everybody.

Please support HB 5698. It is a big step in the right direction. For both individuals and organizations, get more information and sign on your support at https://illinoisagingtogether.org/get-involved/#get-involved

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