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Experience What It’s Like to Have Autism

An Empathy Bridge for Autism is a toolkit that allows people to experience the visual, auditory and speech differences that come with autism

Photo of Heeju Kim
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What problem does your idea solve?

Autism Empathy Kit investigates ways of increasing understanding around the condition of people with autism. This kit promotes understanding by providing 'real' and 'augmented real' autistic experience to audience. On the basis of my observation in my workshops, this direct experience worked very different from delivering mere knowledge; experience was able to make people empathize with people with people with autism, whereas knowledge stayed as knowledge.

Explain your idea

Autism affects over 20 million people worldwide. Beyond the impersonal causes and treatments, this design is an exploration of how autism feels. An Empathy Bridge for Autism is a toolkit that allows people to experience the visual, auditory and speech differences that come with autism, advocating greater understanding and empathy for people with Autism. Made of sustainable materials, the toolkit includes a headset, two ear pieces and six lollipops. Wearing them all at once, users can feel the world the way they do. 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. The project was started in a hope that everyone could see my younger brother with autism just as himself, rather than an autistic people. We are living in a sad world where people never care of what it’s like to have autism, even though autism affects one out of every 300 people around us. They just think they saw ‘someone unusual and strange’ after witnessing people with autism. I realized soon that letting people know more about autism does not improve this unhappy situation and that knowledge does not guarantee understanding. Instead, I tried to provide people direct experience of having autistic sensory and it made all the difference. Helping people with autism themselves is important, but I believe more urgent task is to spread understanding and care about autism in our society.

Who benefits?

Especially, even families of children with autism and teachers of autistic children do not precisely understand what causes autistic people behave differently from others. Therefore, the tools mainly appeal to those people who live with or regularly meet autistic children. The target audience includes parents of autistic children, social welfare professionals, and classmates of autistic children. Empathy kit improves relation between people with autism and people without autism in various way.

How is your idea unique?

This is the first design that will enable people to learn about and to empathize with autistic people. In contrast, there have been many works in the opposite direction that tries to make autistic people to live in more ‘normal’ way. One example is the interactive camera application named Look at Me, that aids autistic children to have eye contact with their parents. Unlike this approach, however, I believe autism may not be a disability that needs to be corrected but a characteristic that should be respected. In this sense the message of an empathy kit is very clear; the education of non-autistic people about autism is as important as the education of autistic people about being ordinary. In big picture, the bridge project is at the intersection of two core territories of my design: Designs for communication and designs for neglected social group.

Tell us more about you

I am an experience and product designer currently working in US. I have younger brother with autism, and I always have tried to figure out how people with autism could live more happy. I believe understanding toward autism is a kind of challenge that society as a whole should face. Therefore, I am looking for a way to grow and expand the idea in a larger scale than what individual designer can do. Regarding the project, I will be the one who will be in charge of the whole process.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Although research and development of the product itself has been fully completed, there are still remaining tasks of how to distribute the item. One of the main concerns is the distribution channel. Because target customer of my product is not general public but rather educational institutions or families of autistic people, establishing the distribution channel for the product is different from other retail products. I hope that my product could obtain enough credibility to appeal to such institutions by winning the Open Ideo challenge. I also expect to find a effective way to commercialize my product by consulting in boot camp. Plus, this is my website link: http://kimheeju.com

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Bangladesh
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Mozambique
  • Nepal
  • Uganda
  • Zambia

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • No, not yet.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for less than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are not registered but plan to in the future.

Idea Maturity

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

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