In Sydney, Australia empathy for those living with hearing loss, especially hearing loss in children, is reaching whole new levels. This new appreciation comes thanks to Sydney based charity, The Shepherd Centre which used virtual reality technology to recreate a typical childhood experience of someone living with moderate hearing loss.
The project entailed filming a typical day from the point of view of a child at a primary school. Shepherd Centre personnel teamed up with a creative firm called Paper Moose and qualified audiologists to simulate the experience virtually at Newton Primary School. Audiologists worked in the team to develop a scenario as real life as possible.
The Virtual Reality Experience
The entire experiences consist of a child’s point of view while playing on the playground at the school, and while sitting in the classroom. At first, it seems as though nothing is happening, and that the playground is quiet. But when replayed with full audio, the user is surprised to discover just how much sound they missed, including an invitation from another child to come play.
Again, in the classroom, the feeling of isolation persists as the teacher is audible, but what he is saying is entirely indistinguishable.
The results were startling to most people with normal hearing. The amount of isolation felt during the virtual reality experience in both scenes, on the playground and in the classroom, was unreal. The result of such an experiment was increased empathy for children dealing with hearing loss.
The hope the Shepherd Centre has for this project is that increases awareness and appreciation for just how tough school can be for children dealing with hearing loss, thereby increasing the rate of early intervention. According to Nick Hunter, Creative Director at Paper Moose, “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.”
Implications For Dealing With Stigma
This virtual reality scenario may have some parents worried about hearing aid stigma to rethink their decisions since now they may realize the isolation and failure to connect socially with others is far more damaging than any teasing they might face by wearing hearing aids.
Not only are there social implications, but the failure to detect and treat hearing loss at a young age can also result in a myriad of problems to include delayed or absent speech, depression, anxiety, anger, low academic performance, and significant self-esteem issues, to name a few.
The Future Of VR
Walking in someone else’s shoes is one of the best ways to gain empathy for others. Virtual Reality isn’t just for gaming anymore. In addition to training on the importance of hearing loss detection and intervention, VR could be applied to a host of other situations that need more public awareness. In the meantime, programs educating parents and teachers about the importance of advocating for the hearing impaired continues. As the popularity of this VR model spreads, awareness will spread too.