1) Can you tell us simply, in 3 sentences what your research is about?
My research investigates how we can take advantage of the new generation of 3D virtual reality technology as a tool for teaching and therapy for children with intellectual disabilities and those on the autism spectrum.
2) Why should we be interested in this issue?
How we experience technology, and more importantly, how we experience using technology is changing. Traditionally, we have interfaced with technology by sitting at a desk, in front of a computer terminal. Mobile, tablet and other light-form devices are changing this user experience. New technologies such as augmented reality and virtual spaces will further change our technology experience. It is evident that these emergent technologies can both enable and disable children and adults with different disabilities. As a research community, we have a responsibility to examine how technology can be made accessible to all and exploited for the benefit of people with disabilities. This research allows me with to explore, test and articulate the opportunities provided by emergent technologies.
One focal point of my research is examining the relationship that teachers, therapists, parents and other children have in supporting technology use by children with disabilities. My research will investigate the relationship between those supporting the child with a disability and the technology that is being used. Highlighting the important role of human support to make technology use successful should be a real and tangible outcome of this work.
3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
For me, being part of community of fellows who have broadly, similar research objectives is important. The increased attention that this community brings to the field of technology and disability will hopefully serve to increase awareness amongst the wider community as to the potential that technology can offer to those with different abilities. The fact that the ASSISTID Research programme is embedded in a large, disability service provider such as the Daughters of Charity ensures that the research is validated by service users and service providers.
A significant benefit of an ASSISTID Fellowship is the focus on further education and training. I’ve had the chance to take post-graduate and professional development courses in academic writing, teaching, curriculum design and statistical analysis. Some of these practical skills have been immediately applicable, while some others such as product innovation, social media training and funding will equip me as my career progresses beyond the lifetime of this Fellowship.
4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
I would hope that my research starts to shine a light on the potential that technology can offer to children who experience some of the more significant challenges associated with ASD and intellectual disabillities. My ambition is to highlight how new technology developments such as virtual environments can assist children to play together and to examine how technology can support social interaction, communication and learning.
I would like to see that the common perception that technology that is too expensive, advanced and complicated for use by children with complex disabilities can be “desmystified” and that teachers, therapists and parents can feel confident in exploring how technology may work for their children. It is also important to highlight that, although technology is valuable, the human element required to set up and support its use in a teaching or therapy environment is crucial to ensure that children with disabilities benefit fully.
Over the years a question that came from parents in particular was “what technology is suitable for my son/daughter with a disability?”. My hope would be, as research in this area increases, that this question becomes a moot point and that we see developers recognise that technology can be developed for use by children with all of abilities and disabilities.
5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
In reality, I find most people are not quite sure what to ask or are afraid to ask too many questions!
People are often curious about my personal motivation to research how technology can be used by and for children with ASD or intellectual disabilities. Unfortunately there is no short answer to this particular question, and it often serves as a starting point for longer conversations with people.
6) Tell us something which might surprise us?
I’m not sure how surprising it is, as its popularity has increased in recent years, but I get a great pleasure from homebrewing craft beers of varying styles and flavours. Like cooking, the process of brewing mixes some technical skills with creativity and can be a really relaxing and pleasurable way to spend an evening.