One of the most powerful things in this world is empathy. It puts us into someone else’s shoes to experience how it feels to be them. It can change minds and hearts and maybe even the world. It is the powerful concept that a recent virtual reality breakthrough is relying on to help people better understand what it’s like for a child to live with hearing loss.
What is virtual reality
Virtual reality is popping up everywhere these days, even promoted on television as the next must-have on everyone’s Christmas list. While it would sure make movie-watching and video games more exciting than ever, the possibilities for virtual reality technology go far beyond pure entertainment. Virtual reality is defined as “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” Or, as Wired sums it up, “technology by which computer-aided stimuli create the immersive illusion of being somewhere else.”
This exciting technology is now being harnessed to promote a deeper understanding of those with hearing loss.
The hearing loss experience
At the Shepherd Centre in Australia, parents, teachers, school administrators and classmates are getting the unique opportunity to walk in the shoes of a hearing-impaired child thanks to virtual reality. The organization’s virtual reality experience takes participants from the playground to the classroom immersing them in a world where hearing loss makes the world much harder to hear and navigate.
The team worked closely with hearing healthcare providers to create a highly accurate experience that demonstrated what it was like to be in school both with and without hearing aids to manage hearing loss. This dual-immersion experience may also help underscore the importance of early detection and intervention to help manage hearing loss.
Experts have found that in many cases, families are reluctant to have children use hearing aids and similar devices to improve hearing ability. The common fear is that it will make children stand out as different and put them at risk of bullying. The team at the Shepherd Centre hopes that this virtual reality experience will help families better understand how critical interventions may actually help children participate in school and with peers more easily, putting them at less risk of bullying.
It seems that feedback from those who have gone through the experience is proving just how powerful virtual reality can be at promoting this awareness, understanding, and empathy.
What people are saying
According to the Shepherd Centre, in both the creators’ experience and based on feedback from those who have gone through the experience, the virtual reality program has been highly successful in fostering empathy and understanding.
Nick Hunter, who led the program’s design team, stated, “When the whole experience was finished, and we sat down and watched it in its entirety, I found it surprisingly emotional at how isolated and vulnerable I felt.”
One mother shared, “It was very emotional to put your mind and your head and your body and transplant into your own child and to experience what they see and hear, or don’t hear.”
The team at the Shepherd Centre hopes to offer the experience to an even broader audience, including government officials, to bring awareness to the barriers those with hearing loss may face in daily life.
If you believe your child has hearing loss, contact our office to schedule a hearing evaluation. Early detection and management is key to helping your child stay happy, healthy and on-track.