Would you say you have empathy?

On my recent UX designer job hunt I was often asked “Would you say you have empathy?” I would instantly cringe as I felt it instantly showed me how little people knew about UX and that they felt that’s what made someone a UX Designer.

For me, I knew I had it but I didn’t know how to explain that to someone in an interview and I wasn’t sure how that made me better at my job.

This week I was involved in two project meetings that have opened my eyes to the empathy I have for people. I’ve always known I’m a people person and had an ability to instantly connect with people and relate to situations.

Last week, I attended two meetings for a project for the deaf community. Having worked on projects to improve accessibility and having been trained on disabilities, accessibility and inclusion I was already excited and feeling privileged to be working on a project of this nature. I eagerly had put my hand up to participate and help in any which way I could.

The reality was I was actually quiet naive to what I was in for and how much of an impact it would have on me.

As a walked into a meeting room, my colleague asked me ‘have you worked with an interpreter before?’ I responded with a confused ‘no?’ as we entered the room.

I was introduced to two women, one deaf and one an interpreter. The deaf woman we were meeting explain how she taught people Auslan and the situations in which brought people to learn Auslan.

I was instantly taken a back with a mixture of overwhelming emotions…

I was in awe of this world I had not crossed, how effectively they communicated, how happy and non-effected they seemed. I felt lucky and appreciative for my ability to hear and communicate everyone I cross, whilst at the same time I felt deep sadness for the people who had never had the joys to hear the world in which we live.

I felt helpless for those parents that found their children unable to hear their voice, saddened for those that had their hearing taken from them suddenly and scared for those that knew they were on a road to silence.

As I sat there taking notes, I found myself holding back tears.

I found myself listening to mundane and insignificant sounds in the room that I took for granted to hear and I wondered how I would cope without sound; How alone I would feel without my ability to easily converse with people.

The more we discussed her work, the more admiration I had and more I wanted to know. I wanted to ensure that this project was successful and that it helped not only her, but as many people as possible.

For me, this is how I know I have empathy. For me, it’s not feeling sorry for someone — as there is nothing to feel sorry for, she leads a complete and happy life.

Having empathy for users allows me to create more effective designs as a result for being able to walk a mine in their shoes.

This empathy is my motivator to do the best job possible and to create seamless and accessible experiences for the entire community.

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