Playing Around with Technology: Part I
When I was eight years old, I began the third grade at a brand-new school. One of the first things that my teacher taught me was how to get around the playground. Her wisdom went as follows: the playground is one of the most important places for a student: especially a student with a disability. It was on the playground where real learning would happen.
According to LUDI – a research network on play for children with disabilities – play plays a central role in children’s cognitive, social, and language development. Unfortunately, children with disabilities are often denied opportunities for inclusive play with peers because there is a lack of analogous forms of play in that they can take part in.
Technology for Play
In an investigation of the facilitators and barriers to inclusive play, Sobel, O'Leary, and Kientz (2015) found that technology was one of the most important facilitators of play between children with and without disabilities.
- Teachers employed technology in the classroom to support inclusive play and social interactions between students with and without disabilities.
- Children used technology in new and innovative ways, often beyond the original intent of the technology. For example, students might give one another instructions about what to do on a computer, or pass a tablet around to take turns in a game.
- parents highlighted the expansive options for new play that technology offered their children. In particular, technology provided opportunities for overcoming communication barriers. Certain video games also promoted good collaboration between children, allowing them to help one another out “in-game.”
An interesting secondary advantage of technology that parents pointed out was how it facilitated communication with teachers. Teachers could share pictures of children playing together, which helped reassure parents of the friendships their children were developing.
How to Choose
Unfortunately, not all games, toys, and technologies are accessible to children with disabilities. It can be frustrating for a parent or child with a disability to get their hands on a new technology – be it a toy or game – only to find that it is not accessible. Meanwhile, teachers might search for appropriate classroom technologies without knowing what criteria to use to insure accessibility.
Recognizing these challenges, Bonarini and Jansens (2020) developed guidelines on the usability and accessibility of toys and technologies for play for children with disabilities. These guidelines have been specifically developed for different stakeholders, including parents, professionals, designers, makers, and researchers.
Guidelines The following are some of the considerations included within teacher guidelines:
- What is the goal of the child’s play with the given object?
- Considerations around the design of the object
- Is it safe for the child?
- What functionalities does the object have?
- Can the child access/manipulate the object from a number of positions?
- What kind of physical adaptations can be made to the object to make it usable/accessible;
- Can you create new challenges/games with the object to make it engaging for a longer period;
- Considerations around how sustainable/resilient the object are to damage;
- Considerations around the child’s specific needs in relation to the object;
- And considerations about environmental factors around where the object will be used and if there are cultural or other factors involved in play with the object.
Come Play With Us
There are a myriad of interesting technologies that have been found to promote inclusive play. In a follow-up post, we are going to present some of the most interesting examples of how technology has been employed to encourage play among students with and without disabilities.
In the meantime, do you have any favorite technologies that you have used to promote inclusive play? Come visit us on our CIDDL Community page. We promise to always share our toys!