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?


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