Adaptive Design: Creating opportunities for social engagement for children with disabilities

By Megan

I felt incredibly inspired after hearing the talk on adaptive design. This talk addressed the social model of disability research and the development of technologies for children with disabilities. I love hearing about people who take an innovative, open and accessible approach to solving problems, and this example completely fit the bill. Inspired by a project in Manhattan, the adaptive design lab (part of EDGE lab) is creating opportunities for ordinary people to create adaptive technologies using cardboard, in order to satisfy the unique needs of children with disabilities.

Some exciting things about this specific project:

– It’s accessible – just about anyone can develop a new adaptive technology without requiring advanced knowledge or skill of mechanics or design, nor are there advanced tools required. The objects are, after all, made from cardboard.

– Each new project is tailored to individual children’s needs, but they create opportunities for others, too. Participants in the lab can build furniture (chairs, cradles, rockers) or other objects (keyboards, keyboard stands) based on any observed need from working with, or caring for, children with special needs. But of course, each new development provides inspiration for creating more the same objects, or creating new and different kinds of objects. The objects can also be replicated for other children who do not have special needs, in order to create a level playing field in social settings.

– Adaptive technologies not only empower children with special-needs to participate in the same activities as other children, they actually create opportunities for social engagement during those activities, which is perhaps the most powerful thing they could possibly do. The terrific example gave in the talk was about Zoe, a child who, when was able to play in the sandbox without the support of an adult (through the way of a cardboard chair), other children began to make eye contact and play with her. The progression of this led to the other children learning sign language, building friendships with Zoe, and provided her a way of developing her own autonomy and opportunity for social interaction. Powerful!

Here is a video of more examples of how adaptive design is used to create important opportunities for children with special needs to reach their full potential as fully-engaged social participants.

Among The Giants from Adaptive Design Association on Vimeo.

One of the things I loved about this talk was that it:

– Reminded me of how incredibly ableist our society is, and how truly exclusionary so many environments are.

– Inspired me to see how something as simple as a lab filled with cardboard could change someone’s universe; all that is necessary are ideas and the space and support set aside for creation.

– Made me think about other questions – like, how are other individuals excluded from social participation and how can we take a similar innovative, accessible and participative approach to address these problems?


Stephen Morris – more photos & videos

By Megan DePutter

Loved the dynamic presentation by Stephen Morris this afternoon! At the end of the presentation, he alluded to his Flickr account, which I highly recommend you check out. Lots of other fascinating images and videos can be found there.  Specifically, you can see more of the patterns he referred to today, in washboard roads, iciclesviscous fluid in motion and the famous dried egg with radial cracks – the image used by Subtle Technologies for this year’s festival.

Dr. Michael Page & New developments in digital holography

By Megan

Michael Page is Professor, faculty of Art OCAD U and Visiting Professor, Institute for Optical Sciences, U of T.  Funnily enough, the first thing that I thought of when I learned that Dr. Page would be presenting on digital holography, is the holodeck. Apparently, I’m not the only one.  Dr. Page says that the public is so anxious to get to the holodeck that scientists are actually borrowing the term holography to meet that demand.  So, there are cool 3D constructs on the ipad, and some other interesting ideas masquerading as holographic technologies – but they’re not truly holograms.  Dr. Page did, however, share some actual holograms with us, including holograms with Margaret Atwood, and one where the hologram’s eyes follow you wherever you go. In addition, haptic holography is all about creating holograms you can actually touch. For example, an augmented work station that allows the user to feel some degree of friction and texture of objects, and actually move objects through interactive hologrpahic displays. Dr. Page also showed a fantastic example of an animated hologram – for example a sundial hologram on an iphone to tell the time by interacting with other technologies on the iphone that can identify the direction of the sun.  I’d love to see that show up on the app store!


Live blogging at the symposium: Eric Boyd, extending the limits of humans into “cyborg” territory

Hi! I’m Megan, the Online Communities Coordinator for Subtle Technologies.  Today and for part of tomorrow I will be live blogging for the festival.

First up today was Eric Boyd, a self-identified “transhumanist” and “digital crusader.” Eric likes to “augment” the human experience by turning cyborg ideas into realities. Eric says that with machines, “we can become more than we are,” meaning that we can actually adapt to technology to become almost super-human.  For example, when you use Eric’s “North Paw,” a compass anklet that gives a persistent sense of direction, your body adapts to the constant stimulus, your brain adapts and gives you a honing instinct, almost like a pigeon.  Because your brain has a certain amount of plasticity, and will maximize any resources it has, it will actually adapt to a new sense that it is presented with. In that way, we’re actually capable of learning and doing more than we do.

This particular invention can solve problems among pedestrians in big cities, like the disorientation you feel when you walk out of a subway station. But it’s particularly interesting exciting because it asks the question, “what are the limits of being human?”

I love people and ideas that make me question humanness. Artistic technologies like the North Paw actually make the user re-evaluate assumptions about the limits of being human.

As a Sociologist, I’m particularly interested in the effects of Eric’s other devise, which is more of a fashion/social piece.  With Heart Spark, a heart-shaped pendant which flashes little lights in time with your heart beat, you can actually reveal your heart beat in a public setting. This is fun to be sure, but like North Paw, this technology actually presents a more questions than it does answer problems. For example, how does it change the conversation if you can tell someone is excited or bored? How does it make people feel when you open doors on normally closed matters? The heart beat is something we normally don’t see; does it make people nervous or uncomfortable to have such inside knowledge into a stranger’s – or a friend, or partner’s – body, and by extension, feelings? Eric says yes: one woman actually said she felt “dirty” when looking at him.

My field of Sociology is impression management, which studies, in simplistic terms, how human beings structure their external impressions in order to respond to the expectations of a social event or group and elicit a desired impression from the other.  This little piece of playful technology intrudes on the ability to hide and manage these impressions by literally wearing your heart on your shirt.

Would love to hear your thoughts/impressions of Eric’s technologies or anything else you’ve heard this morning that you find intriguing!