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How to Teach Compassion With Assistive Technology

Compassion is the underlying basis for all assistive technology. It includes the desire to relieve someone else’s suffering, to make something that will create greater independence for the user, and lead to an individual’s better quality of life. Compassion has also been shown to be beneficial for individuals’ health and well being. Besides assistive technology being the result of compassionate acts, it can also be used as the vehicle to create and promote compassion in others. Assistive technology has many different presentations encompassing many types of disabilities. Here are some examples that demonstrate teaching compassion with the use of the technology. The ADA defines access rights of service dog recipients. When access was denied in three hospitalizations in two different hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area, a service dog recipient was involved in three different legal cases. The cases were resolved successfully with the following results: 1. One case was a landmark decision, the first case of a service dog in a psychiatric facility in the U.S. The case also became the precedent for all future service dog access denial cases in the U.S. 2. Structural changes were made in one hospital built in 2009, due to accessibility issues. 3. In one hospital, training on service dogs by an accredited service dog organization, was made to the entire staff of all of the hospital’s facilities. 4. Service dog policies were created in both hospitals. These outcomes, in two large hospitals, as well as the cases themselves fostered greater awareness and understanding of service dogs, service dog recipients, and the tasks the service dogs perform. In addition, the cases had greater implications by ensuring the rights of all service dog recipients. Inventing a humorous therapeutic board game for psychiatric inpatients presents therapists with a new tool to positively affect the mental health of patients. The game is designed for group therapy situations with many built in interventions. This format allows patients to move towards greater individual wellness. Patients also learn about each other as they share therapeutic responses. Information that is shared by one patient, can be beneficial to other patients having similar issues. Greater awareness and understanding of each other and their problems create greater empathy and compassion. Three educational programs that teach students design thinking while inventing something to meet the need of an individual with a disability are: (1) Project Invent, (2) Design the Future, (3) Stanford University’s, Engineering 110/210 “Perspectives in Assistive Technology.” Although these programs vary in length of time on the project (one school year, one or two weeks, one semester); and age of the students (high school or college); they all have a team of designers learn about the challenges of the Community Partner, the individual with a disability. Creative teaching skills of the Community Partner present opportunities for her/him/they to further teach compassion. Here are some examples: Allowing students to personally experience what it is like to navigate with power and manual wheelchairs while (1) going over different surfaces, (2) going through narrow doorways in facilities, (3) accessing bathrooms without accessible buttons on the doors, (4) going into an accessible van and attaching the mobility device without bending down. Other examples are demonstrating ways a residence is made more accessible to meet the individual’s needs, and learning about decisions and problem solving an individual with a disability makes to accommodate the way that they interact with the world. From personally experiencing aspects of the life of an individual with a disability, students gain a greater understanding and compassion for other people.  
  • Higher Education
  • Disability Specific
  • K-12 Education
  • Healthcare & Rehabilitation
  • Legal
Audience Level
Session Summary (Abstract)
This presentation will show how activities as varied as legal cases against hospitals for service dog access denial, creating a therapeutic board game for psychiatric inpatients, and educational programs teaching design thinking to students who invent assistive technology for individuals with disabilities, are vehicles to teach compassion.  
Session Type
General Track  
  • Blind/Low Vision
  • Education
  • Healthcare & Rehabilitation
  • Law, Compliance, and Policy
  • Mobility


  • Abigayil Tamara

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