Embodied Empowerment Design: Reframing the Problem through Co-Design

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
J. van Dijk, Twente University, Enschede, Netherlands
Background: As health-care policy increasingly focuses on ‘empowerment’, assistive technologies are developed to help persons with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) in independent living. Most technologies quite straightforwardly provide ‘solutions’ to aid with daily tasks, or to train certain skills.

Objectives: Given the poor success-rates of assistive technologies in general, our co-design approach aims first to explore instead in more detail what the actual problems are, as seen from the lived, embodied and situated experiences of the people involved.

Methods: We work closely together with a small number of people on the spectrum, over a longer period of time. Through a series of design cycles involving contextual interview, role-play, collaborative brainstorming, prototyping, and evaluation of experience prototypes, we develop a designerly understanding of the details of their lifeworlds, along with a final product proposal. Reflecting on this process and the design outcome with stakeholders (people with ASC, family, care-professionals), we uncover implicit assumptions that may actually get in the way of designing truly empowering technologies, and we envision what alternative conceptualizations may look like.

Results: In this talk I present two cases. The first concerns a system of wireless lamp-bodies that provide situated hints to help structure the day. The second is a smartwatch allowing users to record their own relaxing messages to be played in response to situations of stress. Using these cases I develop the vision of Embodied Empowerment. This vision on empowering technologies critically reframes several conventional interpretations of assistive technology. First: our designs never directly address ‘the disorder’. Straightforward attempts at ‘solving problems caused by autism’, I claim, are always potentially misguided. Instead, Embodied Empowerment calls for technology that enables people first and foremost to be and become most fully themselves. Second, our systems do not ‘take over’: they provide scaffolds with which people may regain control over their lives, recruiting their skills and available resources in the environment. Third, our technologies are not ‘monitoring’ or ‘training’ tools used by care-givers, nor are they replacing real people: instead they mediate in social relations with significant others, towards more empowered interactions. Fourth: while we use information technology, we do not use it to ‘remind’, ‘instruct’ or ‘inform’ the user about what to do. Rather, we design objects and spaces with interactive properties to catalyze and transform sensorimotor routines, such that the user can find (his own) information, by taking action. Finally, we envision not finished solutions, but open platforms. which can be tailored by people in use to their individual needs, interests and talents.

Conclusions: To conclude, we used a co-design research approach as a method to critically reframe some implicit assumptions in present-day assistive technology. The resulting vision of Embodied Empowerment opens up a large, unexplored design potential, promising new personally meaningful devices, to empower persons with ASD in living their everyday lives, on their own terms, in their own unique ways.