Seniors summit consultation results

Overall, participating Ottawa older adults reported that Ottawa was age-friendly in terms of its size, environment and available activities. However, poor health, diminishing income and isolation were revealed to be elements that tested the limits of Ottawa’s age-friendliness. Older adults stressed the importance of accessible services and places to look after their health and well-being, and wanted easier ways to get information on what relevant programs and services were available. Furthermore, a number of participants stressed the need for more initiatives aimed at reducing social isolation.The City of Ottawa commissioned Nanos Research to conduct consultations with older adults in Ottawa as part of the Older Adult Plan. Part of the consultations was conducted in partnership with Age Friendly Ottawa. The consultations took place between October 3rd and December 2nd, 2011 among approximately 630 older adults and stakeholders in Ottawa.

The tasks for this research project were divided as follows: Nanos Research moderated and provided note-taking at nine public consultations targeting the general older adult population. Age Friendly Ottawa moderated 15 consultation sessions targeting specific groups of older adults and for which Nanos Research provided note-taking. The moderator’s guide was based on the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Age Friendly Cities protocol. The consultation was also comprised of online, telephone and paper surveys created in partnership between Nanos Research and the City of Ottawa. The survey questionnaire’s themes were drawn from the WHO framework.

The following is an overview of the findings from the Seniors Summit, consultation sessions and from the online, telephone and paper surveys that were also available during the consultation period.

Please note that the older adults who participated in the consultations are not a representative sample of the older adult population in Ottawa since they were not randomly selected.

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Key Findings-all consultations 

Life in Ottawa as an Older Adult

For Seniors Summit and consultation survey participants (n=106), the most cited “perfect age-friendly” feature in Ottawa was “city-wide accessibility” (32.4% of all respondents), followed by “improved transportation services” (20.6%) and “social inclusion” (12.5%). Seniors Summit and consultation participants liked Ottawa’s size, environment and services such as public libraries, while many felt that transportation, social participation, streets and sidewalks, and access to housing should be improved.

Outdoor Spaces and Buildings

Seniors Summit and consultation participants had mainly positive comments about Ottawa’s outdoor opportunities – especially green spaces. However, maintenance and condition of sidewalks, barriers to accessing public buildings and the perceived lack of age-friendly features in parks and along pathways were the top barriers to an age-friendlier city. Of note, winter was mentioned as a prominent isolating factor.  


Seniors Summit and consultation participants’ views on public transportation were influenced by their health, location and level of income. Several older adults reported they had had good experiences with bus drivers and that they appreciated the ride-free days on OC Transpo. The top areas of concern were the cost of public transportation, as well as access to bus stops and to final destinations. Rural participants reported that they felt somewhat isolated due to the lack of bus routes in their areas. Likewise, parking was widely regarded as expensive, particularly at Ottawa’s hospitals.  


Most participants expressed the desire to live in their own home as long as possible as well as to remain in their communities, close to family and friends. Thus, there were positive comments with respect to services that allowed them to do so. However, when it came to the variety of options for moving out of the house, several concerns emerged in the consultations: lack of affordable, safe and well located rental units, small size of social housing units and lack of communication on services related to housing. 

Respect and Social Inclusion

Intergenerational respect took center stage in discussions related to respect during the consultations. Most participants had positive comments to make about how they are treated by younger people, and city buses were revealed to be one of the main social spaces where intergenerational interaction was occurring. Special groups (Francophones, immigrants, GLBTQ, rural residents) were especially sensitive to the notion of respect in terms of decision-makers responding to their own specificities and needs.

Social Participation

Seniors Summit and consultation participants reported that Ottawa offered a good variety of activities for older adults. Libraries, community/seniors’ centres and churches were seen as favourite places to socialize for many. Commonly-mentioned barriers to participation were the cost of activities and lack of communication channels to advertise available opportunities. A number of participants mentioned they would like to see more opportunities for continuing education and fitness programs. 

Communication and Information

Word of mouth and places such as libraries, community/seniors’ centres and churches were identified as typical information-sharing places by a number of consultation participants. Accordingly, isolated older adults lacking support (especially immigrants) were generally viewed as the group most likely to be missing out on relevant information. Likewise, the Internet was perceived as being relied on too much by the City and not age-friendly by many. However, a noticeable proportion of participants said that more programs should be created to teach older adults how to use the Internet and computers. 

Civic Participation and Paid/Unpaid Employment

When it came to volunteering opportunities, consultation participants perceived Ottawa to be a city that offered a vast array of possibilities. One of the main barriers identified was that the volunteer work schedules and level of effort were often too demanding because of the lack of volunteers. Personal cost incurred was also an important barrier with respect to volunteering. Reducing the difficult steps to get a volunteer position and creating opportunities for mentorships were two commonly-mentioned possible improvements in this area. 

Community Support and Health Services

A noticeable proportion of consultation participants had a good impression of community health centres and clinics, as well as home support services provided by Community Care Access Centres (CCAC) and community agencies. However, there was a general impression that there was a lack of coordination between elder care and support service providers, which made it hard to seek help – especially for isolated older adults. Other barriers included the cost of services, lack of services and caregiver support. 

Public Safety and Security

Participants in the Seniors Summit and consultations found that, in general, Ottawa is a safe city to live in, but that there is a need for more prevention among older adults and an improved lighting system in outdoor spaces. When asked to report their top positive experience with public safety and security services, survey respondents (n=106) answered “emergency services are quick and responsive” (13.2%) followed by “police there when needed” (8.5%) and “good prevention” (6.6%). Top areas of improvement were “addressing crime/safety issues” (10.4%), “better crime/safety prevention and communication” (10.4%) and “better street lighting” (7.5%). 

General Impressions

With a mean score of 5.7 out of 10, consultation survey respondents’ satisfaction with City of Ottawa services was average. Of note, only sixteen percent of consultation survey respondents rated their satisfaction as an 8, 9 or 10 on the ten-point satisfaction scale, which indicates that there is room for improvements in services targeting older adults. Similarly, consultation participants gave a mean middling score of 5.5 out of 10 when asked to rate the overall age-friendliness of Ottawa with regards to the eight themes covered in the discussions. Based on the feedback from all consultation platforms, areas that comparatively need more improvements are housing, community support and health services, and transportation.

Key Themes from Targeted Consultations

Aboriginal Community

Many participating members of the Aboriginal community shared similar concerns as with the mainstream consultations. Poor sidewalk conditions and a limited access to the public transportation system were thought to limit accessibility throughout the city. Another prominent theme that arose in discussions with members of the Aboriginal community was a lack of intergenerational respect and of communication between Aboriginal older adults and their service providers, particularly in terms of healthcare services. Access to affordable and safe housing was also revealed to be an issue of particular importance for participating older adults from this community.

Care Providers

Non-hired caregivers who participated in the consultations mentioned the lack of accessibility throughout the city, especially in terms of public buildings’ doors, public transportation, and housing. A major area of concern for this consultation group was the difficulty that older adults faced when trying to access information regarding available elder care services.

Multicultural Community

Older adults from multicultural backgrounds listed city-wide accessibility as a major area of concern. Noticeably, the difficulty to find affordable housing was a prominent issue in Ottawa that many found to affect their quality of life. Another important area of concern for this group was isolation; indeed, many participating older adults from multicultural communities wanted more avenues to have a social life within and outside of their communities and better communication strategies so that they get the information on practical and community-oriented topics. 

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (GLBTQ)

Members of the GLBTQ community were particularly concerned with social inclusion and isolation. Many felt that a combination of homophobic attitudes and social activities geared toward heterosexual, married people undermined their ability to be a part of the community at large, thus increasing the probability of GLBTQ older adults facing isolation. Having seniors’ homes better adapted for the GLBTQ community was viewed as a potentially good way to improve inclusion and limit isolation in old age for members of this community.


The consequences of living in the city with a lower income was a challenge to many participating older adults, particularly in terms of the costliness of medications, public transportation, and housing, which all affected their social participation. One of the most salient findings, therefore, was that this group had often limited social participation options and was consequently at greater risk of isolation.


A major area of concern for this consultation group was their desire to live their lives in French, whether when it came to accessing services or attending social and cultural events. French-speaking older adults living in West Ottawa found it particularly difficult to speak their first language and meet with other Francophones. Likewise, there was a general impression among participants from this group that there is a lack of equity between services available in French relative to English.

Services Providers and Business Community

Service providers and members of the business community emphasized the threat of isolation on older adults in the city of Ottawa. Many felt concerned toward the lack of accessibility in terms of transportation and public buildings, which play an integral role in the degree of participation of older adults. Housing was seen as an important issue by many in terms of costliness and of the lack of features adapted to older adults’ mobility and health challenges. In terms of the continuum of health and supportive services to older adults, many participants from this group asserted the need to have a concerted approach to service delivery and reduce barriers to accessing them. 

Older Adults with Disabilities

Accessibility throughout the city was a major concern for this consultation group. Many felt that because of their disability, they were limited in terms of housing and transportation options, and their ability to navigate throughout the city in public buildings and outdoor spaces.

Rural residents

The main challenges raised in this group were mostly related to isolation. Many participating older rural residents mentioned that there was a lack of affordable venues to rent for social gathering, limited options in terms of seniors’ homes, and limited access to public transportation. Noticeably, however, many participants stressed that they especially enjoyed the community feel of smaller towns while being close to the city.

Key Insights

Ottawa’s Age-Friendliness

Ottawa’s most age-friendly attributes, as chosen by consultation participants, included green spaces, good public libraries and a wealth of activities (seniors’ centres, museums, groups oriented toward older adults) available for older adults.

Limits of Ottawa’s Age-Friendliness

Faced with health and mobility issues and a sudden decrease in income, access to these and other services was a challenge for many participants, and led to concern over growing isolation.

Most Frequently Cited Ideas for Improvements Provided by Participants

The following is a list of the most frequently cited ideas for improvement cited by participants across all consultation sessions. Detailed lists of ideas can be found at the end of Chapters 3 to 11.

Outdoor spaces and buildings

  • Regularly repair cracks and holes in sidewalks. 

  • Public buildings: Invest in and maintain doors that open automatically or by pushing a button. 

  • Install more public benches and washrooms along main roads and in parks.

Transportation and mobility

  • Add more routes to cover rural areas and parts of the City with fewer transportation links to popular destinations. Ensure bus routes end directly in front of buildings such as shopping malls, hospitals, etc. 

  • Standardize cost of use of Para Transpo – do not change fares based on location. 

  • Eliminate or reduce cost of parking at hospitals and clinics. Increase designated parking spaces for spaces for older adults at public buildings. 

  • Invest in bigger, more visible street signs and traffic lights. 

  • Increase the allotted time for crossing intersections.

Respect and social inclusion

  •  Improve on perceived lack of older-adult activities for men relative to women at community centres.


  • Construct more affordable, public/social housing for older adults – reduce waiting times for social housing. 

  • Plan for greater variety of older-adult housing: in more areas around Ottawa, better mix of rental and owned, with facilities designed or adapted to meet needs of residents with disabilities and limited mobility. 

  • Develop a plan for more effectively communicating information to older adults on home-retrofitting programs, assistance with moving to seniors’ housing or long-term care homes.

Social participation

  • Look at ways to make participating in activities and events more affordable for older adults. 

  • Ensure continued financial support for community centres and seniors’ centres.

Communication and information

  •  Make use of all communication channels ? telephone, radio, television, pamphlets, door-to-door and Internet ? not all older adults have access to a computer. 

  • Develop Internet and computer skills classes for older adults across Ottawa.

Civic participation and paid/unpaid employment 

  • Develop mentorship programs for older adults to share experience from their working life. 

  • Reduce/simplify paperwork associated with applying to volunteer.

Community support and health services

  • Alleviate the “silo” structure of elder care by making sure that older adults receive the continuum of care they need across community, City and provincially-funded and provided health services.

Public safety and security

 Make sure the streets, parks and parking lots are well-lit at night. 
Reinforce surveillance at intersections and enforce rules of the road.