This is a fairly intermittent blog of my reflections on involving children in the design of communication aid technologies. I’m a speech & language therapist and researcher who is extremely privileged to have worked with an amazing group of children and young people who use their augmentative and alternative communication systems to build relationships, interact, share life stories and orchestrate how they are perceived by others through their technologies. Well actually, that last bit is not quite true… we’re working on it.
Like other technologies, communication aids have the potential to improve lives by ‘giving people a voice’. On the most superficial level, seeing a computer attached to a child’s wheelchair immediately suggests that child has something to say and a way of saying it. What is not seen is the immense effort that is needed to learn to use the system, dissolution following the initial introduction of a device and, very commonly, abandonment.
Children with neurodiverse or developmentally diverse skills have different skills that are shaped by their altered experiences of the world as they learn through interaction and play. Technologies that assume children follow typical language trajectories can be difficult to adopt.
My research has focused on involving children with severe speech and physical impairments in developing new communication aids that reflect their priorities through the process of participatory design. A core goal has been to understand about the salient features of communication from child-centred perspectives.
These blog posts reflect on my PhD journey. They start with early methodological and theoretical reflections whilst carving out my research design right through to things I continue to ponder on even after thesis submission (August 2019). I’ve been supported and supervised by Dr Mina Vasalou and Dr Michael Clarke. I am based at the UCL Knowledge Lab, London and until recently, was working on the iRead Project, funded by EU Horizon 2020. I am currently funded by the ESRC to disseminate the findings of my PhD research beyond academia, through a 1 year postdoctoral fellowship.
Please feel free to comment on posts or contact me. I’d really welcome your thoughts.