Users’ role in co-designing products has changed: from influencing outcomes to influencing development/design; from standardizing to customising products/outcomes; from…
Users’ role in co-designing products has changed: from influencing outcomes to influencing development/design; from standardizing to customising products/outcomes; from participating to engaging designers/developers. Although this participatory design (PD) approach makes users’ role more prominent it has been under-utilised for the technological development of products for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD). The purpose of this paper is to present a responsible research and innovation example, in conversation skills training for people with autism, using virtual reality (VR).
The PD approach was adopted during the iterative development of the virtual world and training materials. Multiple baseline design was utilised consisting of three participants on the mild/moderate end of the autism spectrum. Participants joined 15–16 sessions over four phases of structured conversations, delivered both face-to-face and virtually.
The feedback sessions revealed that the participants felt VR has the potential in providing training for people with autism spectrum disorders. Moreover, they thought delivering the training in three formats could enhance their learning, since PowerPoints, videos and chatbot would represent teaching, showing and practicing, respectively.
PD promotes a “one-size-fits-one approach”, cultivating agile, inclusive, responsive design approaches for people with NDDs, so that outcome meets their needs and preferences, while VR training allows for a wider implementation, benefiting a wider range of learners.
The RRI approach increases the inclusion of people with disabilities in the decision-making process through dialogue with “experts”, making their role more visible, fostering an ethical and sustainable innovation process, leading to more desirable outcomes.
People with cognitive disabilities have a right to an inclusive society, and to have access to services and products that meet their specific needs. Participatory design…
People with cognitive disabilities have a right to an inclusive society, and to have access to services and products that meet their specific needs. Participatory design (PD) represents a potentially effective way to ensure these rights, because users become influencers of the technological development and design process, are actively involved in the customization of that technology and develop a relationship with the designers/developers. Literature suggests that user involvement in technology development produces better products and has shown that this process offers users a voice and the process is also conducive to mutual learning between researchers and participants. This paper aims to discuss these issues.
Here the authors will present the development of a virtual world (VW) platform, having as a starting point a minimally viable initial version. This was followed by the creation of a networking framework to test each feature of the VW, which allowed connected users, most of whom on the autistic spectrum, to interact with each other in real time in the VW, and to see each other’s effects. Stress testing sessions were initiated with a mixed group of 15 users, 8 of whom with autism (7 male and 1 female). Ten of the participants were male and five were female (Figure 1).
Even though the platform is feature-complete, its code is still in development; features can be improved/expanded upon, which necessitates further testing. The most commonly flagged issues from the stress testing were requests for videos/text manuals, the camera controls and chat message errors. These were implemented/fixed or added to the feature roadmap. “Heavy avatar customization” was also suggested, which has conceptual merit, but is not a priority.
PD is an inclusive approach that addresses personal needs and preferences, matching up the person with the tools and environments to ensure equity and inclusion. The VW whose development is described in this paper has been used for communication skills training with autistic young adults. It could be used for other social, life, academic and vocational skills training. This type of training through VR/VW may help enhance the employment-related skills of neurodiverse populations (and thus empower independent living) and has the potential for broader implementation and wider access in terms of distance learning.
This paper adds to the rather limited literature on applying PD approaches in the development of products for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. The authors will present such a process for the development of a VW with people with autism. Although literature suggests that user involvement produces better outcomes, adopting this approach is not straightforward. The paper will describe in detail not only the contribution the participants made in every phase but also the limitations of applying a PD approach with a neurodiverse population, in order for them to be equal partners in the process and be involved in a meaningful way.