Researcher develops tools to help build children’s autonomy
December 07, 2012
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.