Enabling Children: Explorations into Creative Design Methods with Children with Disabilities.
My thesis project shares a series of explorations involving the design and use of a set of creative research methods to involve children with disabilities in the design process. This project is part of a larger ongoing participatory action research study to design a play space in the therapy department of Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children in Vancouver, BC. My research in the MAA program at Emily Carr has provided a unique opportunity to study industrial design from my position as an occupational therapist, as exposure to design methods has led to a shift in my approach to working with children with disabilities.
Adults often underestimate the ability of a child or youth to meaningfully contribute to decision-making and research. The assumption of the unreliability or incompetence of children may lead to the design of objects and environments that reflect more of an adults’ view of the world, versus acknowledging that children have their own perspectives to offer. These beliefs and practices can become more marked for children with physical or cognitive limitations. While involving children with disabilities in research activities may present challenges, efforts to empower them and provide a measure of control over their physical world can contribute to their sense of well-being.
Based primarily on a co-design approach and generative toolkits by Liz Sanders, as well as participant observation, this thesis project analyses several sessions with the children who contributed to the design process using a ‘toolkit’. Findings produced a listing of practical suggestions for researchers using similar creative methods in design research with children with disabilities. This exploration, which employs concepts from the sociology of childhood, theory of affordances, sensory integration and client centered practice, illustrates that the toolkit is a valuable, creative, and visual method that has the potential be used in pediatric occupational therapy and design practices, as well as research.
The insights in this research come from the collaboration between two seemingly different disciplines, industrial design and occupational therapy. This work has hopefully contributed to the understanding of using creative research methods, and provided ideas for future research initiatives that support participation, creativity, autonomy and empowerment of children with disabilities.