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Empathy Lab Workshop for Neurodiversity Celebration Week

The incomparable American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”It was on one of my first days at Transpire when I was introduced to this quote and how it applies to work we do around digital accessibility.

At Transpire, universal design and accessibility are a core part of what we do. It goes right to our purpose as a business to ensure that all people can use and benefit from the digital experiences we create – this includes the 4.4 million Australians who have disability.

To embed this culture internally as well as with our clients we created a virtual Empathy Lab Workshop – a series of digital-based exercises designed to help build empathy for people with disabilities, whether they be permanent, temporary or situational.

This week, as part of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I facilitated my first Empathy Lab Workshop with our internal team. This blog is an overview of the workshop, my experience facilitating, and how taking this step with your team can help you build empathy, build a learning culture, and ultimately – to do better in our work.

Firstly, a caveat. I’m not a designer and was initially hesitant to take on this facilitation role. However, having participated in a number of them already, and with incredible support from my amazing design colleagues, I felt confident to use the IP Transpire has created to facilitate. And that’s the key – it’s a workshop not a lecture. The content has been well researched and tested, with proven exercises that help people discover something and build empathy.

The workshop is designed to raise awareness of accessibility & inclusion in three parts.

1: The introduction communicates the scale, challenges and opportunities of technology and the digital world.

2: Participants get hands-on experience performing everyday digital tasks using mobile, tablet and laptops, while experiencing some form of disability; Vision, Colour, Dexterity, Hearing or Cognitive.

3: After each activity, we facilitate an open conversation about participants’ experience and guide them through to actions they can facilitate with their teams to drive inclusion.

The objectives of this workshop are to get participants thinking beyond themselves and understand the experience of people who have reduced vision, dexterity, colour-blindness, deafness and other forms of disability or neurodiversity, in order to empathise with some of the barriers they face with technology.

Internally, these sessions have been a brilliant engagement activity to ensure we are walking the talk as a team. For new hires, or as a refresher for existing staff, the workshops ensure that accessibility, inclusion and universal design are always at the forefront of our minds and our work, so we can do our best work with our clients. It speaks directly to our core company value of ‘create with empathy’.

For our work with clients, Empathy Labs are a great way to show clients how we work, our priorities and purpose, and begin discussions about how we can help with their most ambitious projects.

The workshops also give us an opportunity to educate businesses about the importance of accessibility. It’s not just about doing the right thing, if you don’t create accessible products and experiences, you are violating laws, opening up risks of litigation. There are more and more stories each year of companies facing lawsuits because they didn’t consider accessibility in their products and services.

So what did I learn, as a facilitator?

I learned that you don’t have to be the expert to facilitate a learning experience. The way the activities are structured means participants walk away with direct experience doing digital talks with a simulated disability. They’ve felt the difficulty and frustration of not being able to do something that, by law, they should be able to. This is an experience you just don’t forget.

The discussions and sharing with fellow participants also opens up awareness to the diversity of experiences, even when participating in the same exercise with the same simulation in place. We need to be careful not to generalise what the disabled or neurodiverse experience is. What we can do is help people build empathy with the barriers that some people may experience.

Transpire is a for-purpose business, with a mission to weave humanity into technology and improve people’s lives through technology. I’m happy to have played my small part in helping colleagues know more, feel more and commit to making changes in their work and daily practices.

Transpire will continue to use Empathy Labs to educate, inform and inspire the business and technology communities to ensure the accessibility and universal design are at the forefront of their minds when building digital experiences. If you think it could help your team, please get in touch.

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