Cultivating Care

photo of yellow green red and brown plastic pieces on surface that shows they are connected through a web

For the benefit of three years down the line, when the pace of London life will likely resume to ‘business as normal’, I’m writing this post as daily routines are disrupted, relations protracted, and thoughts linger a little while longer. Like many others who are reflecting on the social impact of the corona virus pandemic, the past few weeks have made me acutely aware of how care practices are being enacted right now; what this means for how care can be cultivated, and what I choose to leave behind.

In my PhD research, one of the most unanticipated insights was observing the ways that children with severe speech and physical impairments enacted care practices with others. Care was a key value, evident both through children’s forms of engagement and through the subject matter of what they communicated.

For instance, when children in my study spent time out of school or in hospital for extended periods, a networked arrangement of people, technologies, artefacts and processes all allowed for care to be enacted as an ongoing process. I watched as children repeatedly asked after their friends and made cards for them in their absence. ‘We miss you’ cards were physically created, electronically transported and digitally remade in new contexts. People, crafted materials and online platforms and processes all allowed for these co-created and ongoing practices to take place (see also Light & Akama, 2014 and Brown & Choi, 2018 for more discussion on designing for care).

Care was expressed through material objects, like decorating children’s belongings in their absence and making cards, but also by finding affinity in what children said they liked to do, by trading stories and creating common ground. Care was evidenced through closeness and touch; holding hands, leaning on each other, and perhaps most powerfully, being at another’s side.  

Fast forward to March 2020, I observe how similar arrangements are both cultivating and inhibiting care. Having spent the past two weeks largely by myself, my laptop and mobile phone have been a lifeline for care. Regular video and audio calls, messaging, exchanges of funny memes and videos, as well as daily YouTube yoga and mindfulness sessions, are all collaboratively practiced in one form or another. Added to this, in my working hours, regular video calls, emails, chat forums (and hopefully more social virtual coffee and lunch breaks) are all reinforcing networks of care in my daily routine, in the absence of closeness and touch.

What is less helpful, are those shared ‘beware’ threads and videos that are making their rounds. I appreciate that these are probably shared with all good intention, but they do nothing more than exacerbate panic and stress. No, I won’t keep my groceries outdoors for 5 days before bringing them in the house, nor will I use that 50% homemade Cypriot ‘zivania’ brandy I have in my cupboard to clean my worktops (I mean, seriously…).

Right now, I’m trying to turn down the volume of all that unnecessary chatter to learn from insights gained from children. Right now, I’m attending more to making care. Right now, I’m making in a physical sense and drawing on technology and networks to remake this in new and care-ful ways. I highly recommend it!

What we Learn When Designing with Marginalised Children

IDC 2020 Workshop 12: What we Learn When Designing with Marginalised Children

June 2020, online event

So much child computer interaction (CCI) research has focused on the process of how to involve children and technology artifact production, especially when there’s a ‘problem’ to be ‘fixed’. These insights have been hugely important, but to allow for design work with marginalised children to mature and grow in pace with the concerns of the broader CCI community we propose that there’s a need to be clear about what is learned from past experiences.

Can we learn from these encounters?

What can we learn?

What are some of the challenges?

What forms of transferable knowledge does this take?

Really pleased that we were able to carry out this workshop at the ACM Interaction Design and Children conference in June 2020, in Virtual-London 😉

To read about the discussions that this workshop generated, please visit the Inclusive education technologies website. A very big thanks to the workshop participants and co-organisers for being part of it.

A video study on AAC use in conversations

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.

 

I’m so delighted to share details of my first full paper co-authored with Mina Vasalou and Mike Clarke. It’s to appear in the CHI 2018 proceedings and has been awarded an honourable mention.

 

Design Opportunities for AAC and Children with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments

 

My PhD project is loosely split into three slices which inform each other. The first slice investigates how high tech AAC devices are used in conversations involving children and adults in school, with design implications in mind. The second slice is exploring how communication manifests more broadly; with and without technology. The focus is on how children with severe speech and physical impairments communicate meanings about themselves and their lives. The third slice is looking at representing this information from a child-centred perspective with empathy. The broader goal is to generate a tool for design that prompts new ways of thinking about how digital technologies can advance communication. (wow. my whole phd in six sentences 😉 )

 

The paper documents the first part of the project, examining how communication is created when AAC is present. I focus on analysing video data from conversations in school involving five child participants, their peers and adults. Please get in touch to share your thoughts.

 

line drawing of two girls facing each other with their eye gaze devices mounted in front of them. Their deivces are blocking their view of each other.
‘AAC as a material object’

Cross pollinated disciplines

 

The benefits of interdisciplinary perspectives to tackle every day problems have long been advocated in many walks of life. Without the influence of arts and sciences, how could solutions for any situation be sustainable at all? Consider for example, any given smart phone. Whilst packing in a plethora of technical necessities, they couldn’t possibly be usable if they were not so beautiful somehow. Aesthetically pleasing in the way they look, feel and among other things, enable access to capture and edit photos, videos and music. Not because we all consider ourselves serious food photographers or music enthusiasts, but because these things are intertwined in our lives and we are somehow pleasured by the act of sharing our experiences.

Why then, when I think of assistive equipment (hand splints, walking aids, adapted keyboards) do I sigh in disappointment that they are not so sexy? Actually, they are not sexy at all. They serve a functional purpose, often engineered with physiological goals in mind. Mass-produced to keep costs low, understandably.

In his book ‘Design meets disability’, Graham Pullin invites us to construe new perspectives for the design of adaptive aids and equipment that, refreshingly, alert us to the fact that different people might actually have different tastes, shaped by their age, gender, social class, environment as well as many other factors. One example that I often recall is the account of the athlete, model and actress Aimee Mullins, whose collaborations with Alexander McQueen and Dazed & Confused magazine present a lasting, iconic image of Mullins wearing nothing but her carbon fibre running legs and tracksuit bottoms. This and a latter image of her jaw-dropping, hand-crafted wooden legs carve out an image in the mind that is difficult to forget. Not because they present her as an icon for disability, but because (for me) they present her as an icon for people.

Pullin’s design thinking approach invites us to consider designing all sorts of adaptive equipment and aids from new perspectives, for example, creations that are fashion pieces, designed to be exhibited and worn with pride: to be noticed rather than discretely hidden.

This perspective makes me consider how disability is communicated in different contexts; whether there are differences in how this is projected through the social model of disability; and how far this goes in changing a person’s views on how they construe disability.

I recently visited a show at the Copperfield Gallery, London, with works that were collectively framed around the title ‘compassion not gain’. Whilst on first look I thought that this was probably intended to rouse empathy for disability, the arrangement of pieces communicated something far deeper. A gilded wheelchair entitled ‘Apollo’s chariot’ positioned facing a limply hanging parachute (‘Fall, where the birds die’), next to a wooden ballet barre inscribed in Braille with a poem by Frida Kahlo that described overcoming frustration through strength of will, suggested that all bodies are vulnerable at some point. Whilst the artist David Escalona sensitively projecting fragility in human kind, his pieces highlighted that all forms of struggle are ever changing and lie on a continuum. If it is in fact society that enforces disabling barriers rather than individualised impairments, perhaps a golden chariot does accurately represent a wheelchair for a specific individual or perhaps the words of Kahlo’s poetry can accurately depict the emotional and physical struggle of a ballet dancer.

These examples are only a few of many that highlight the value of seeing everyday obstacles through a different lens; a design thinking approach to consider known situations in new ways. More on design thinking to follow.

David Escalona, El Carro de Apolo (Apollo’s Chariot), 2015. Gold plated folded wheelchair.
David Escalona, El Carro de Apolo (Apollo’s Chariot), 2015. Gold plated folded wheelchair.

 

David Escalona Puntos de apoyo (Supporting Points), 2015. Three wooden bars with alloy braille inscription.
David Escalona Puntos de apoyo (Supporting Points), 2015. Three wooden bars with alloy braille inscription.