The 2017 Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference took place at Stanford University in California this past June. The conference brought together an amazing community of researchers, designers, educators, and industry specialists who are interested in designing (primarily technology and new media experiences) for and with children. Before the conference began, various groups of people put on one-day IDC workshops focusing on topics spanning from joint media engagement to making to co-design.
My co-organizers Dr. Julie A. Kientz (University of Washington), Dr. Carmen Gonzalez (University of Washington), Dr. Tamara L. Clegg (University of Maryland), and former JGCC fellow Dr. Jason C. Yip (University of Washington) and I decided to host a pre-conference workshop called Equity & Inclusivity at IDC. Due to our aligning interests, we joined forces with the Interaction Design & Autistic Children workshop, organized by Dr. Chris Frauenberger along with Katharina Spiel and Julia Makhaeva.
Our goal for the workshop was to bring together a community of researchers and designers who could share how they already make or plan to make equity—promoting fairness by allocating more resources and opportunities to those who need it— and inclusivity— the inclusion and meaningful participation of people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized— foundational to their work with children and families. These issues—equity and inclusivity—complement each other as we can use equitable practices and approaches to promote inclusion in our designs and methods.
We succeeded in this right; our 19 workshop participants had extremely important, diverse, intersectional interests concerning equity and inclusivity. As passionate undergraduate and doctoral students, research scientists, lecturers, and professors, their work concentrated on, for example, co-designing with children of color, children with disabilities, and children from underserved communities; understanding and designing interactive and immersive technologies for children with disabilities and illnesses; helping children’s media creators develop representative content (e.g., around race and disability); and creating and promoting STEM and making opportunities for girls, young women of color, and children with disabilities.
Throughout the day, we reflected on how our approaches, designs, and methods may either be restricting or facilitating equitable access and participation of diverse children and their families. As our participants’ work was diverse in focus, we also collectively reflected on how children’s and families’ intersecting identities (i.e., gender, race, class, ability, etc.), structural inequality, and power dynamics can make our work more challenging.
In the morning, workshop participants got to know each other in small groups and discussed what they have already done in regard to equity and inclusivity in their work, including what has been successful and what has been challenging. After this discussion, based on the challenges we collectively identified, we all established particular areas that we as individuals and a research community still need to address; for example, adapting methods to our participants’ diverse needs and abilities, recruiting marginalized children and families, and infrastructural issues, like scalability or our ability to influence policy. The afternoon consisted of more small and large group discussions on how we might get closer to addressing these challenges.
Ultimately, we (1) opened up an underdeveloped dialogue about the complexity of confronting and attending to issues of equity and inclusivity in research and design and (2) began to articulate where and how we as a community could go further in confronting these challenges. We took steps toward being more equitable and inclusive in our research by being both reflective and reflexive about our positionality as people who work and design with marginalized children and families.
So while we tackled many issues related to methods (e.g., recruitment), designs (e.g., representation, accessibility), and theoretical approaches (e.g., using a feminist or intersectional lens), what was most exciting to me was how we in the workshop turned the mirror onto ourselves. While we may be committed to equity and inclusivity in our work, our research community itself also needs to be equitable and inclusive. We need to create more spaces for people to critically explore these types of complex questions. But more importantly, we need more opportunities to share with each other and provide valuable guidance and support.
One main takeaway from our group discussions was that our conferences and meetings need to be more diverse. Beyond participation, we also discussed ways in which we could hold ourselves accountable to each other and the families that we aim to serve. We must realize our own responsibility and privilege as researchers and designers. We need to make external commitments to our participants and give back to the community in ways that might not always benefit the research directly. We must advocate for and amplify each other’s voices. We need to be more critical of our ethical commitments, realizing that those of us with privilege must also be activists if we want to affect equity and inclusivity in our own community.
This workshop was just the first step in making even stronger commitments to equity and inclusivity in our work with marginalized children and families. Our next steps include generating a list of more concrete to-do’s for our research and design community, finding both communication and publishing channels to promote equitable, inclusive design work for children and families, and developing a FAQ for people who want to do better at being more equitable and inclusive in their work. Now we’re excited for what these next steps will bring!
Kiley Sobel is a doctoral candidate and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in inclusive design, child-computer interaction, and assistive technology. She has worked as a teacher’s assistant in various early childhood education classrooms and as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. Her primary research is in understanding how interactive technology might help increase opportunities for children with diverse abilities and needs to equally, actively, and meaningfully participate in the same setting. She is currently working on her dissertation to investigate the role of interactive technology during inclusive play, or play between children with and without disabilities.