Behind Empathic Design

This week has been a rather eye opening experience for me. Recently, I severely injured knee. This has resulted in me using crutches and/or a wheelchair in my everyday life. When you are able to use both of your legs, you really don’t think about how easy it is to get around, you just do it without thinking. But when that is taken away from you, you begin to look at things from a different perspective. My way of life has been drastically altered because of this injury, and my mindset has changed as a result of that. I’ve had a paradigm shift in not only the way I appreciate my able body, but also in the way I view the lives of the elderly and disabled. Because of this experience I have become more empathetic towards those who are not as able bodied as I am. This new found empathy can become quite useful when I am merchandising a space, for example. 

Older individuals and disabled people should be in the forefront of the world’s mind when they are designing public spaces. But instead of making it easier for them, they only make it harder by designing for young, able bodied consumers. Just think about every hotel, restaurant, or store you’ve been to recently. Did they have adequate handicapped parking? Did they have wheelchair accessible ramps? Were the aisles wide enough for a wheelchair to fit through? Were the shelves low enough to be accessible? These are only a few of the considerations that need to take place when people think of public spaces. 

This relates to sustainability in a couple of ways. If we build building and spaces that are designed to suit the needs of everyone, then we are better off in the long run, than having to spend money, man power, and resources on redesigning places every time they aren’t up to regulation. We can also use Biomimcry as a means to more empathic design. In nature, we see that it is survival of the fittest, and so most creatures learn to evolve or adapt to their surroundings, their predators, and their haibitats in order to survive. However, as humans we are not as equipped to adapt, this is why we need an environment that adapts to us. If we were able to create a system that could adapt to each consumers unique physical needs, then the elderly and disabled would be much better cared for. Nature has already figured it out, now we just have to follow in their footsteps.

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