How Augmented Reality Can Be An Empathy-Building Tool
Royal College of Art graduate Heeju Kim has designed a Google Cardboard application that is paired with a collection of awkwardly shaped candies meant to impede speech
Autism, defined as a mental condition characterized by a difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with others, as well as with the struggle of putting abstract concepts to use, is often a foreign notion to most, making it difficult for people to empathize with those on the spectrum. To bring the feeling of being autistic home to those without the disability, Royal College of Art graduate Heeju Kim has designed a collection of awkwardly shaped candies meant to impede speech, which made an appearance in last year’s Dubai Design Week, as part of Global Grad Show.
Paired with a camera-enabled Google Cardboard, a smartphone app distorts a wearer’s vision, either by obscuring their focus with blotchy patches, or by providing double vision. An additional oversensitive earpiece amplifies nearby sounds.
When all of the components are combined, the result is a surreal experience that highlights the everyday reality of those with autism titled An Empathy Bridge for Autism. The variously-shaped lollipops and other contorted figures are purposefully fashioned out of low-cost materials, and the Google Cardboard headset is available for some $15 USD, making the kit in its entirety relatively inexpensive to reproduce. The pieces are exclusively available in low-arousal colors, favored by those with autism.
The search for an effective method to heighten the understanding surrounding the condition stems from Kim’s personal life, as she has a younger sibling with autism. Having grown up with someone who has the disability means the toolset is not only more authentic, but provides a more accurate depiction of what it might be like to have it yourself.
Time and again, we’ve seen that the prospect of augmented/virtual reality technologies offer a powerful take on building empathy around certain disorders—after assistive technologies to aid those with these varying struggles, perhaps the next big thing is to educate the public as to what these symptoms look and feel like, so that those without autism, dementia or other disorders may be more equipped to help those with them.