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Playing Around with Technology: Part II

Author: Nicholas Jay Hoekstra; info@ciddl.org

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of play for children with disabilities and how technology can facilitate play. Teachers employed technology in the classroom to encourage social interactions between students with and without disabilities. Students, when given opportunities, took existing technology and used it in innovative ways. Finally, parents spoke about how technology provided alternative forms of communication or even allowed them to watch how their children played.

Choosing technology that is both accessible and entertaining, however, can be challenging for teachers, parents, and children alike. In this blog, we’re going to provide a few examples of some creative technologies that are supporting play for children with disabilities.

Creating a Safe Space for Children with Autism

One very interesting – and unexpected – example of technology being used innovatively by individuals with disabilities can be found in the massively popular game Minecraft. In a 2019 article, Ringland investigates the semi-private online community Autcraft, made up exclusively of children with autism, their families, and allies. In her article, Ringland discusses how children’s interactions with Autcraft exist on three levels:

  • the physical, consisting in the space where children are when they play, as well as the settings they choose for lighting and sound on the computer;
  • The liminal, consisting in the names children choose for themselves and the way they design their avatars;
  • And the virtual consists of the game itself, social media websites about the game, blogs, twitch, and other platforms children use to share news and information about Autcraft.

In Autcraft, all three of these spaces can be adjusted to meet the individual needs of the users. These environments also come together to form a place where children with autism can build, play, and interact with peers who understand their needs.

Bonding over Robots

A consistent challenge when seeking technology to support play is finding something accessible to students with disabilities that is also interesting for students without disabilities. In a study by Metatla and colleagues (2020),researchers explored the design of inclusive education games with students with and without visual impairments in a co-design workshop. In their workshop, students designed maps and programmed the actions of an off-the-shelf robot – Ozobots – that would then travel a determined route. Researchers came away with six guidelines for designing inclusive educational games:

  1. Incorporate multi-sensory feedback to help all students gain access to information;
  2. Include elements of crafting, so that all students have a hand’s on stake in the development of activities;
  3. Distribute and share roles among students to promote empathy;
  4. Encourage students to narrate what they’re doing to help slow down the pace;
  5. Combine physical movement with visual maps to improve the engagement of all students; and
  6. Embed learning objectives to help keep students interested.

Teach us to Play

We’ve looked at two examples of how technology can promote play for children with disabilities. In one example, a virtual world provided a safe space for children with Autism. In our second example, off-the-shelf robots could be employed to promote learning for students with and without visual impairments, if a few guidelines were considered.

What other examples of technologies to support play can you think of? Perhaps a game that turns out to be unexpectedly accessible, or a technology that, under the right circumstances, encourages inclusive play. Tell us about it on our CIDDL Community page.