Postcards and Empathy Maps Across WNY and CNY


Human Centered Design prioritizes talking to and collaborating with the people who are most likely to be affected by a new program or service improvement. Review this post for more information on empathizing with end users.

Starting in October 2016, the Aging By Design team worked with organizations on the collection of empathy maps and postcards. Groups found creative ways to collect postcards one-on-one, in group settings, and through program activities.

How are other organizations doing it?

Inter Faith Works in Syracuse facilitated an empathy mapping session with over 50 older adults as part of their Senior Companion Program, and encouraged them to take them out on their visits. They’ve also been working with refugee communities across the city to gather empathy maps from older adults that may be unfamiliar with healthcare and social systems in the United States.

Upper NY Older Adult Ministries has been working with Methodist communities across rural Southern Erie County, collecting postcards and empathy maps from older adults and their caregivers. One of the priorities of Aging By Design is to better understand how older adults in rural areas of NYS would improve their quality of life. Although transportation is a primary concern, the diversity of perspectives coming from rural areas has been eye-opening for the project team.

The Pride Center of WNY has been using its regularly-scheduled activities for older adults – coffee hours, tea time, healthy lunches – to share information about the project and collect postcards from a population that undergone extensive change in the past few decades. Older LGBT populations still face many challenges, and Aging By Design is helping to open conversations about the services and supports lacking in their communities.

The Parkway Center in Utica has taken postcard selection a step further by making an effort to understand what they heard from the older adults they work with. Several staff took the answers that older adults wrote and summarized each challenge on a sticky note.

The Parkway team then took each sticky note and worked collaboratively to categorize them on a white board. Health and Wellness (physical activity, balance, etc), transportation, home maintenance, socialization, caregiving, and education emerged as top themes for their clients.

Understanding the landscape of aging in WNY and CNY

There was one statement that was more difficult to categorize: “Being perceived differently because of age.” Perception by others, interaction with the rest of society, and the words we use to describe older adults have been common challenges across WNY and CNY. While many older adults grapple with the day-to-day challenges that accompany aging, many others are facing barriers that come with communities that were built by and for younger populations.