COMBINING EMPATHY AND VR FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS
In Makeshop at Fjord New York, we experimented with ways that virtual reality can facilitate empathy to help people better understand unfamiliar situations. There is a definite challenge with this, however, as VR can often trivialize experiences by turning them into a game of sorts. Our mission was to overcome this obstacle and, through our Design Study process, find a way to apply VR and immersive experiences to create more understanding for the unknown – in this case, using a wheelchair.
We began by conducting interviews with wheelchair-user friends and colleagues. Certain patterns and common problems emerged throughout our discussions: stories about disastrous first days in wheelchairs, the challenges of understanding a new complex environment, navigating areas where pedestrians don’t understand the needs of wheelchair users.
This led us quickly to the idea of a Wheelchair Training Program – a simulator offering a safe way to engage with a complex new environment and serving as a way to understand the new obstacles and issues.
With these ideas and this basic framework in place, we set out to create the prototype. I came up with the concept and did the design research but many talented people contributed to this project from study, to service to prototype.