An Empathy Bridge for Autism

2016

The Royal College of Art

Solo project

Expert advise: Hana Kim(autism therapist), Milal autism care center

App developer: James Lam

Empathy Bridge kit:

  • Bridge for Vision: VR device, app design 

  • Bridge for Hearing: A set of earphones

  • Bridge for Speaking : Candies and lollipops

Award

Featured

Autism affects one out of every 300 people of the global population. A neurodevelopmental disorder, it affects sufferers on a spectrum and can manifest itself differently from one person to the next. The social challenges that accompany the condition can make it difficult for the community to form meaningful connections, often leading to isolation and alienation. An Empathy Bridge for Autism is a toolkit that aims to facilitate the development of these connections in the hopes of building more inclusive communities. It allows people to experience the visual, auditory and speech differences that come with autism, advocating greater understanding and empathy for people with Autism. While autism is a complex condition, this is a remarkable first step in understanding the problems faced with verbal and non-verbal communication on a very human scale.

I started this project in a hope that everyone could see my younger brother with autism just as himself, rather than an autistic people. I believe social understanding is critical in improving the quality of life of people with autism. With such purpose, An Empathy Bridge for Autism has been made mostly through low cost material with the aim to increase its accessibility so that a greater audience will be able to empathize with people with autism.

Behind the Design

Personal story: living with a brother with autism

Dissertation 

Problem

Analysis of Autistic Sensory

Autism affects the way people take the world through their senses. For people who have autism, their senses, thought processes, communication and body movements happen differently. It causes them to experience the world in very unique way. Situations that seem normal to most people could be extremely painful to people with autism. 

Design Process

Feedback

Open pop-up workshop to general audience

Near by Thames river, Southwark, London

Bridge for Vision, Hearing, Speaking

Bridge for Vision

Bridge for Hearing

Bridge for Speaking

Bridge for Vision, a VR made of low arousal colors that people with autism favor, reproduces autistic vision of surrounding view by running specially designed app in your own mobile. Autism may impact the eyesight of people. Seeing the world with influenced eyesight can make people feel tired, disoriented, and frustrated. So it is easy to understand why people with autism may have trouble looking you in eyes, or focusing on doing something for a long time. But it is also important to note that a lot of people with autism see just fine. 

Bridge for Hearing is a set of earphones that reproduce oversensitive hearing. The most distinctive sensory characteristic by using this tool is amplified sound. Every noise and sound are magnified, distorted, and muddled so that it is very hard to make a conversation while using the tool. Background noise is the other realized characteristic; people with autism are sometimes unable to block out background noise. Some people with autism are unable to block out sound in the way most people can do when they want to focus on something. Because they can hear every noise and sound coming from their surroundings, you often see them closing their ears or rocking back and forth in clear signs of agitation. 


Bridge for Speaking are candies with six different shapes that deter movement of different parts of tongue. The specific parts of tongue that people with autism are unable to control may vary individually. It is important to have conversation while using this tool, because the experience will make users understand how hard it is to convey their intention with unclear pronunciation.

Empathy Bridge App for AR

Download available on the app store

System Design

Validation

Workshops, Exhibitions

2016 Southwark, London, UK

2016 Grobal Grad Show, Dubai, UAE

2017 workshop at HAP, Hiroshima, Japan  

Forthcoming(2019), Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA Forthcoming(2020), Walker Art Center, USA Forthcoming(2021), Art Institute of Chicago, USA

User comments

from 2016 Southwark workshop

“I felt like I almost couldn’t hear my own thoughts and what I was feeling,” noted one user after using the VR tool and earphones. “I felt quite isolated… I didn’t realise it would be as overwhelming as it was.”

 

“It must be hard to get up every day and have to face the world with those drawbacks because you can’t hear as you should hear it, you can't see the world as you should see it, and you can’t speak how everyone else expects you to.”

An Empathy Bridge For Autism

" I think this can be a very insightful experience to build empathy and learn about disabilities for people who are not disabled themselves."

- iF Design Jury Statement

Working process