This is a guest post by Daniel Frank
If you don’t suffer from a chronic condition then it can be hard to understand or sympathise with sufferers. Even an academic understanding of the condition cannot give you the experiences you need to understand what sufferers are going through. There is a solution to this problem, which is starting to emerge, with a number of different providers creating simulations of these conditions.
The example with the most coverage is probably Loughborough University’s SKInS (Sensory and Kinaesthetic Interactive Simulations). Their ‘empathy suits’ are designed to restrict their wearers in much the same way that osteo-arthritis does and therefore give an idea of what it is like to have the condition. These suits have found a commercial use by stairlift manufacturer Stannah, which uses them to help understand what they can do to improve their product for their customers.
A more psychological example comes from dementia tours. These tours feature a variety of disorienting and disabling equipment such as gloves with fingers bound together, goggles with black spots restricting vision and loud noise being played through earphones. The subject is then asked to complete five simple tasks in eight minutes. The idea is that by undergoing these experiences care workers and other people who work with dementia sufferers can get a better idea of what daily life is like for the people they are looking after. Of course a ten-minute experience is not the same as living with a condition, but the insight and empathy can help reinforce the needs and difficulties of those with these conditions.
Maintaining Dignity and Respect
Perhaps the most valuable insight reinforced by these methods is to show the need for dignity and respect. To find yourself struggling with everyday tasks is humiliating and it means that care workers and family members need to think about how to address these issues without adding to the embarrassment. Hopefully the experience will also make it easier to see subtle ways of helping. For example this could be as easy as improving the lighting or reducing the number of distractions. It may also help care workers be more patient with their charges. This is not meant to be critical of care workers, but it is worth remembering that it is harder to emphathise with an experience that you yourself do not share.
The benefits don’t just extend to care workers and stairlift manufactures however. Anyone who designs objects for use by disabled or elderly people may benefit from these experiences to help show how these can be improved for ease of access and to spot problems that otherwise would be unlikely to be spotted.
Author Bio: Daniel Frank is a blogger and online marketer who is currently working on behalf of Stannah Stairlifts. He writes on a variety of issues including senior health and financial advice such as whether to buy disabled stairlifts.