Participatory Design Workshop at University College Dublin

The Neurodiversity in Design Group held its first formal meeting on October 4th, 2018. The Discussion Forum aimed at showcasing work that has been carried out on the involvement of neurodiverse populations in the design of products and services. The first session comprised of presentations by Laura Malinverni, whose research focuses on creative methods to research and design with and for children and Katta Spiel whose research centres around experiences of autistic children with technologies and including their first-hand perspectives.

Katta’s presentation made the distinction between Neurodiversity as a Theory and as a Movement. Making sense of the world is a participatory endeavour, which according to Katta, relies on the interactions between different people, neuro-typical and -atypical. Acknowledging neurodiversity as a concept means accepting that we have different cognitive abilities, which should be seen as a strength. Katta then presented examples of Participatory Design project work (OutsideTheBox) with Autistic children, which can be delivered through multiple methods (Future Workshops, Co-Operative Inquiry, Drama Workshops, Co-Fabrication) and combinations of them.

Laura’s presentation drew from her experience from PD projects with marginalized children. Laura touched upon the challenges of adopting a PD approach such as situated ethics and motivating participants by managing their expectations. Laura then focused on examples from previous projects on PD methods of co-designing interactive technologies with children with special needs. Being mindful of both the strengths and limitations of a PD approach is imperative, and identifying best practices through reflexivity.

The second session presented PD work carried out for the creation of training on a daily living task, by Yurgos Politis and a group of learners with Intellectual Disabilities who are attending a 2-year programme at the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown in partnership with the Daughters of Charity (DoC - Service Provider for people with IDs). Stephanie Lynch (DOCTRID Liaison Officer) showcased the work that the DoC is involved with, followed by an elaboration on the elements of the programme by Siobhan Cleary (Programme facilitator). Yurgos then described the project, detailing the methodological approach, highlighting the obstacles faced and gave a reflective account of the whole process and developing a list of recommendations for best practice.

The last session was an open discussion. A need to approach designing with neurodiverse populations with a new mindset was the consensus, to develop products that better meet individual needs and preferences. The conversation then turned to identifying how to maximize the potential of the Neurodiversity in Design Group. Firstly, creating a repository on the website of both best practices from research work and of a list of unsuccessful methodological approaches. Secondly, identifying people (researchers, designers, developers etc.) and groups (NGOs, disability organisations etc.) that have experience/interest in PD with neurodiverse populations in Ireland and linking them with existing European research groups active in this field. Lastly, applying for funding to organise similar events in the future and creating an email list.

Thanks to everyone who attended and made the event such a success. Thanks also to the Seed Funding Scheme at University College Dublin for financial support.