Empathy Box: Deepening a designer’s capacity to design well for our community of Persons with Autism
"A good designer is one who has a good capacity for empathy and wants to create designs that are inclusive of all people. But more often than not, we create designs that are not inclusive. And doing so we marginalise people with an impairment — this can be a long term, temporary or situational impairment. This is not good enough, we need to ensure that everyone can enjoy the products we create" - Shane Dolye
What is an inclusive society?
In Singapore, how many Architects, interior designers, lighting designers, acoustical designers, landscape designers, signage designers; the few key custodians to the spatial design of any space, have considered the needs of our diverse social fabric in their design deeply? In other words, how many designers have designed spaces with the myriad needs of our diverse society in mind? Some will ask, ‘Haven’t we already complied with the Building Construction Authority (BCA) Code of Accessibility?’ or likely, even received the BCA Universal Design Award, by meeting the checklist given.
At WeCreate Studio, we began to question ourselves, is this enough? Is meeting the functional and clinical needs sufficient to address the diverse requirements of the elderly, the persons with visual and hearing impairment and our community with hidden disabilities? These disabilities may not have physical signs, yet they are very present in their lived experiences.
What if we can take away these categorisations, able-bodied or not, and recognise that we all have our different needs: at times, some might need their quiet spaces between socialisations. Other times, we enjoy the vibrant spaces, and sometimes we prefer dimmer ones. While there are times that we like being in the company of other individuals, there are also times when we might prefer being by ourselves. If we are able to shift our mindset and be more mindful about the diversity of our society, at this stage of our research, this is what it means to design for an inclusive community.
Empathy Box: the why and the what
To challenge ourselves, we ask this question, ‘what if we can further elevate our creativity and move beyond addressing these needs by diving into the depths of design that inspires and motivates through the diversity of this same social fabric’. We go into the depths of design that questions and explores deeply, the design that empowers the building users. That is why we conceived Empathy Box, a toolkit set that seeks to empower anyone to dive into the depths of this diverse society, and we have started this journey with our persons with autism community.
Moreover, we believe that designers must share their design responsibilities with whom we call ‘co-designers’, ie. caregivers, friends, colleagues, persons with autism themselves, anyone with an informed awareness on the values and opportunities creation from the spectrum of our autism community.
The Exploratory Journey: the how
Mind mapping the progressive thought process
We are currently in the journey of discovery to uncover the values and opportunities that our persons with autism community can offer- we call it the ‘heart way’. In doing so, we seek to allow the design community to better design for them and thus, to empower them through a sensible environment. We shall look forward to the milestone in 2022 to share the potential opportunities.