Designing Technology for Inclusive Play
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Inclusion is an approach, commonly known within education, in which individuals with and without disabilities meaningfully and equitably participate in the same setting. For children, inclusive programs support the development of important social and emotional skills, like empathy and appreciation for human diversity. Within early childhood inclusive programs, supporting play between children with and without disabilities enables young children to naturally learn how to, for example, communicate, cooperate, make and maintain friendships, and take different perspectives. This play between children with diverse abilities and needs is known as inclusive play. While researchers in other fields have worked to understand how to promote opportunities for children with disabilities to play with their peers in inclusive settings, there is less research in human-computer interaction that works to design and study technologies that promote collaborative play between children with and without disabilities. In this dissertation, I research how technology might be designed to support young children with diverse abilities and needs in playing together, inclusively. Here, I integrate theories and methods from design, human-computer interaction, early childhood inclusive education, and the learning sciences. First, I gained a formative understanding of the design space through design-based and ethnographic-oriented research with children, teachers, and parents. This research enabled me to unpack the attitudes, practices, and environmental factors that may have implications for technology design in this area. For example, transparency about disability, how all children have similarities and differences, and how all children have situated strengths and needs is pivotal in supporting children with inclusive play. Using what I learned from this study, I designed and built a photography-based tablet application, called Incloodle, for neurotypical and neurodivergent children to play with together. I used this system as the basis of laboratory study that allowed me to investigate, in a controlled environment, the impact of specific design features on children’s ability to inclusively play together. One important finding was that Incloodle’s technology-enforcement (i.e., two-person face detection during picture taking) helped children, who otherwise had trouble cooperating, take photographs together that included both their faces in the frame. However, for children who did not need this additional support, technology-enforcement limited their creativity. Drawing on the results of this study, I iterated on the design of Incloodle and added the ability for children to wirelessly print their pictures. I then used this redesigned prototype as an intervention in an inclusive kindergarten classroom for 10 weeks. Using video data I collected during the intervention, I conducted an interaction analysis of how neurodiverse groups of children collaboratively played with Incloodle, with additional support from both me and teachers, in this context. My analysis provides insight into the ways that Incloodle mediated children’s interactions, connections with each other, and negotiation of their positioning in the real world to match what was seen in virtual space. Here, I argue the interactions that emerged during the intervention were evidence of children’s joint learning of how to be inclusive spatially, in verbal and nonverbal communication, and in engagement with, around, and through the device. Drawing together my findings across these three studies, I offer considerations for designing technology for inclusive play as a form of meaningful participation and learning among children with and without disabilities. With this work, I hope to shift how designers think about designing for diverse abilities, accessibility, and collaborative engagement to help create and shape a more equitable, inclusive world.