The start of the year proved itself to be an adrenaline (and coffee) filled journey of presenting my PhD project and discussing new directions with many people – old friends and new. It also coincided with a decision to take on more clinical work, at a point where I felt somewhat distanced from the children, families and colleagues who were so embedded in my life up until now. Having genuinely missed playing with children and getting my teeth into clinical decision-making dilemmas, I decided to do so, albeit in small doses. Whilst this was practically manageable, it also highlighted the disconnect between two very separate perspectives of my clinical and academic working life.
The primary focus of my clinical work has always been to look for barriers for communication in children’s lives at the impairment level and beyond. Academically, it has been more to do with looking for solutions that address things just as they are. Now, of course, clinically the next step would always be to begin to provide scaffolds, rehab, learning etc, that’s still the second step, having first dug deep to understand the nuances of difficulties at different levels. Conversely, the design-oriented, solution-focus perspective will also always look to understand barriers but the attitude with which investigating happens is different.
At the start of my studies, it was this disconnect that drove me to change my practice in the hope of bringing new solution-focused sensibilities to designing for communication involving children who have severe speech and physical impairments and their social groups. I’m now starting to think that perhaps there isn’t such a disconnect at all but just a need to tune down the saturation levels of both perspectives. There’s definitely merit in both ways of thinking, but as a clinician who is side-stepping into interaction design studies, I need to be aware of how much my judgements and reasoning can help or hinder the voices of children who are rarely heard in technology design.
At the CHI conference this year, our paper was part of the ‘designing to empower‘ session where, to my delight, I met two other speakers who were ‘clinicians-turned-HCI-researchers’ (is that a thing?)
I immediately hit it off with the wonderful LouAnne Boyd and we spent the coffee breaks and then afterwards many emails discussing parallel good points and challenges in our split working lives. Through the wonders of social media (yes, it worked out this time), I was then connected with Yao Du who went on to lead a reflective experience report the three of us wrote for this year’s ACM ASSETS conference. The whole thing has been pretty cathartic to say the least. Through our joint writing practice I’ve realised that in coming into HCI research from another discipline I’m not expected to be a jack of all trades. For example, it would be pretty comical for me to attempt to ‘programme’ in a computer science sense, I’ll stick to programming devices in the way we know it in speech therapy, thanks. Instead, in keeping my clinical identity whilst tuning down the saturation levels at times, I can draw on clinical reasoning and assessment skills to not give voice so much as amplify what children are already saying.
Here’s the link to the ASSETS paper: