Inventing with Empathy

Child doing a science exercise

Image: Med-El, Ideas4Ears

Inventors guide - Name, school, grade

Introducing Inventing

“Inventors are curious and empathic,” says Professor Michael Cima. He should know. He’s an inventor. He has invented many things. Some of his inventions have changed the way we make things. He helped to invent 3-D printers. He also invented many things that we have never heard of, but they help cure people and save lives. Professor Cima is always curious. He asks a lot of questions and challenges himself to learn new things. He is also empathetic. This means that he understands the feelings and thoughts of the people his inventions help. As we invent, we’ll be like Professor Cima—curious and empathetic.

Cece Bell is an author and an illustrator. She is going to help us be empathetic. Ms. Bell wrote her autobiography about growing up deaf. Her autobiography is titled, El Deafo. It’s a graphic novel. It’s fun to read! The book is based on her personal experiences being deaf. Like Professor Cima, Ms. Bell is always learning. This was her first graphic novel. She had written books before, but not a graphic novel. Ms. Bell is thrilled that El Deafo is inspiring young people like you to invent things for deaf users. “I could think of some inventions I’d love to have myself!” she says.

El Deafo book cover image

El Deafo. Copyright © 2014 by Cece Bell. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher, AMULET Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York, NY.

Some of you may have read El Deafo in school. If you haven’t read the book, there are ways that you can access the book with the help of an adult. Ms. Bell tells her story of being born hearing and remembers singing songs. She got sick when she was young and lost her hearing when she was four. She tried out devices to help her hear. She got a new device just before starting first grade. It’s called a phonic ear. Her teacher wears a microphone and she can understand what her teacher says.

Image of page from El Deafo book

El Deafo. Copyright © 2014 by Cece Bell. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher, AMULET Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York, NY.

There’s just one thing. It’s BIG.

Image of page from El Deafo book wearing phoenetic ear backpack

El Deafo. Copyright © 2014 by Cece Bell. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher, AMULET Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York, NY.

The new device helped her hear but she felt uncomfortable, different, frustrated, and even mad. “El Deafo” is the name she gave herself. This book is her autobiography. She wrote about her memories as a child. Reading the graphic novel can help you develop empathy for someone, like Ms. Bell, who cannot hear.

Student reading El Deafo in classroom

Are you curious about deafness and hearing? You can research deafness and hearing online. You will find interviews with Ms. Bell where she tells her story. You will also find a lot of information about how other people experience hearing impairments and deafness. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 466 million people worldwide with a disabling hearing loss and 34 million are children. Have you ever thought about what your life would be like if you had a hearing loss?

Activity 1: Building Empathy and Understanding Hardships

The Earplug Challenge at Home

All hearing people will wear earplugs or cover their ears to block out sounds in this challenge. This will help you experience what hearing-impaired people experience all the time. Don’t worry if you don’t have earplugs at home. Use earbuds instead to block out some sound. Wear a hat over your ears and earbuds to block out even more sound. With assistance from a family member to keep you safe, walk to different places in your house. What do you experience? What are you curious about? After walking around with some level of reduced hearing, consider these questions:

With a hearing loss…

  1. Would I be aware of an alarm going off in case of an emergency?
  2. Would it be difficult for me to pay attention to other people in my home?
  3. Is there anything in my home that would help hearing people communicate with me?
  4. Are there things in my home that make noises louder and difficult for people to hear?

Describe your Experiences:

Draw pictures and take notes about your experience of walking around with reduced hearing.

Possible Impacts:

  • How would a hearing loss impact your ability to learn?
  • How would a hearing loss impact your ability to play?
  • How would a hearing loss impact your ability to make friends?

Telling a Story about Your Experience and Possible Impacts

Think about your experience and the impacts above. Can you combine them to make a story? Use a “storyboard” to organize your story. Add information to the boxes. Information can be drawings, pictures, or text. Be creative! This is your story of what it was like to not hear well in your home and how hearing loss could impact your life.

Student completing activity

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