In the Spring of 2019, my undergraduate course "Introduction to Assistive Technology" had the enormous good fortune of partnering with the Adaptive Design Association (ADA). The course is housed at the Interactive Media Arts (IMA) Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. It was previously taught at NYU Shanghai's Interactive Media Arts Program and partnered with Cerecares, a residential program for children with Cerebral Palsy. In New York, the interdisciplinary seven-week course provides students with a framework to understand the basics of assistive technology (from high tech to low tech) in addition to the tools available for access, communication, and environmental control. Students are introduced to commercially available products as well as to the enormous value and need for custom adaptations. Through our partnership with the Adaptive Design Association, students were taken through an individual or client-centered design process in the making of an adaptive technology device. All of this is accompanied by readings to contextualize their work both generally and within the disability rights movement.
Students began the partnership through a visit to the Adaptive Design Association where they were introduced to the organization's work and mission, as well as to countless stories and pieces of equipment. From there, students were taken through a basic lesson in cardboard carpentry, basic switches, and given an in-workshop design challenge. The students were extremely motivated to apply their classroom learning to real-world solutions.
One week later, the class was introduced to Benny, a young boy who was about to receive his first piece of equipment from the Adaptive Design Association. His custom free-standing chair and table (equipped with foot plate), would serve as the platform for student projects. Through meetings with ADA staff as well as Benny's Physical Therapist,, students learned about the very important role that "play" would serve in his physical therapy. As a result, students were challenged to develop foot and head switch activated games. These games needed to sit on his table, encourage collaboration with his brother, and encourage proper placement of his head and feet through recreational therapy. Most of all, these games needed to be fun and appropriate for a three year old.
The four student groups presented their final projects to the entire Adaptive Design Association team, and two of the projects are continuing to Benny's home.
Many thanks to the Adaptive Design Association for their willingness to work with students and help develop meaningful classroom learning experiences.
About the Author:
Marianne R. Petit is an Associate Arts Professor at the Tisch school of the Arts ITP and IMA Programs at New York University. She teaches courses in digital media, animation, paper arts, storytelling, and assistive technology. Additionally, she is a co-founder/co-director of the Ability Project, an interdisciplinary research space dedicated to the intersection between disability and technology, and a collaboration of ITP, the Department of Occupational Therapy (Steinhart) and the Integrated Digital Media Program (Tandon). She serves as an Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Network Academic Planning and is a recipient of the 2016 NYU Distinguished Teaching Award.