When we think of deep integration with technology, disability is rarely thought of unless it is a direct focus. There are technologies being developed such aswheelchairs that are controlled by thought, robotic exoskeletons being developed primarily for people with spinal cord injuries to allow them to walk, andstair climbing wheelchairs. They are still clunky and imprecise (or ridiculously expensive and not covered by insurance), but perhaps indicative of future adaptive technology. The “cyborg chic” technologies such as “Skinput” style keyboards andwearable computer technology often are not accessible or designed with an eye to Universal Design concepts.
Ryerson Today has profiled the Lab director.
Early Childhood Studies professor Jason Nolan is pioneering a new set of tools and practices that modify physical and sensory environments so that children with physical and cognitive disabilities can participate barrier-free in play, learning, family life and the community.
Often, children with disabilities do not receive sufficient support for their basic needs. Early Childhood Studies professor Jason Nolan, who is also director of Ryerson’s Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) lab, believes the field of adaptive design (AD) holds great promise for helping such children thrive. AD, Nolan explains, “is rooted in the belief that we need specific tools and techniques to modify physical environments cheaply and easily, so that children with disabilities can participate in barrier-free play, learning, family life and the community.”
Nolan is focusing his research on tools that increase children’s autonomy. One of Nolan’s main efforts has involved using cardboard and other easily accessible materials to engineer custom adaptations, therapeutic seats, play tables and computer kiosks. Recently, he has also extended AD into soft-circuitry and wearable computing such as garments that can allow non-verbal children to speak. His work is supported by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation; the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; and the Graphics, Animation and New Media (GRAND) Network of Centre of Excellence.
“I don’t take a ‘medical’ or disease model of disability,” says Nolan. “Instead, I work directly with children to create new designs that extend their ability to interact with and engage the world around them and, in some cases, to acquire the skills to help others.” Nolan’s approach departs from ‘universal’ design by focusing, instead, on the child’s ‘expertise’ about her or his own condition, which he refers to as “user-initiated” design.
Nolan is also active in spreading AD-related knowledge and best practices among fellow scholars and practitioners. He is a member of the advisory boards of the Adaptive Design Association and the GimpGirl Community. Nolan is autistic and is setting up the Toronto chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) at Ryerson.
Aya Asano lives in Osaka, Japan and works with Ryouiku-Space Yu (nonprofit organization supporting mentally/physically challenged children. Aya works as nursing staff and arts instructor in pottery、water color painting, saori weaves, as well a providing Waldorf education support
She became interested in adaptive design and has been working on some objects of her own that she’s blogged about (page in Japanese), based on the “Geta Chair” design I brought back from the Adaptive Design Association (video). This chair helps children could stay very calm and makes it easier for them to act appropriately.
Now that this rocker is in use she’s looking to make more.
The next step is for her to build a longboard rocker that Melanie prototyped for an autistic teen back in the summer
Students at the EDGE Lab recently showcased their work at the Faculty of Community Services Student Achievement Event. Interns Vivian Chan and Safiyah Nakhuda, featured the work they created during their field placement. Lab tech Rubina Quadri, presented a privacy divider built for a class research project about children’s privacy-seeking behaviour in group settings. Former intern Reilly Dow, created a poster summarizing what she learned at the Adaptive Design Association in New York when she was able to visit as part of her placement at the EDGE Lab.
Rubina Quadri, a 4th year part-time student in the Early Childhood Studies program, was one of the recipients of the Ryerson General Scholarship, an award for academic achievement and contribution to the School of Early Childhood Studies. (This is embarrassing but Jason made me do it.)
The processes we use in Adaptive Design are constantly under revision. We do things the way we do them until something new gets added to the mix. It might happen purposely, such as by trying to make the electronics we use more wearable and less expensive. It can also happen as we work on projects and make discoveries.
The tips and tricks we’ll be posting here will be a close-up look at what we do and how we do it.
One of the current modifications we are working on for the tummy glider is to create modular sponge rolls for support. Velcro will be applied to the top of the glider and inner surfaces of the side pieces so that the sponge can be held securely.