Building Empathy Through Experience

Students simulate challenges faced by disabled population

Special Topics empathyThis semester, the Department of Art's new Special Topics Design Studio topic is empathy. During a recent morning class, graduate and undergraduate students in the course had to carry out "standard," daily tasks while using wheelchairs, wearing eyeglasses that imitated cataracts, and other tools that simulated different challenges other people may face.

"By experiencing what it is like to have different abilities, students gained insights that challenged them to design with different abilities in mind," said Dennis Cheatham, assistant professor of Graphic Design and one of the course instructors. "Later this semester, students in Special Topics Design Studio will work in groups to research and identify problems that pose challenges for people in our community, then apply design and empathy to address these needs," he said.

Instructors Ray Claxton and Dennis Cheatham coordinated with Student Health Services to secure wheelchairs and crutches. Jennifer Heston, a PhD candidate in Gerontology,  consulted with the instructors—sharing her tools and expertise facilitating empathy workshops.