Master thesis project by Sabhín O’Sullivan
How can we use play and collaboration to help children learn about disabilities? WeWill is a learning program that teaches primary school students about disabilities and universal design. The program brings them together with people with disabilities in their local community, who they collaborate with to envision a more inclusive world.
People with disabilities are four times more likely to suffer from extreme loneliness than people without. The lack of understanding from the non-disabled community is the primary cause of this loneliness. By providing children with the opportunity to have positive interactions with people with disabilities, we promote a more open mindset from a young age.
“It’s very important that children feel comfortable interacting with us, know how best to help and support us, and are encouraged to learn more about disability. Having the right approach at a young age will help them to have the right attitudes in their adult lives.”
I approached this thesis as an exploratory design laboratory. A variety of activities and learning tools were developed in multiple co-creation workshops alongside teachers and people with disabilities. These workshops were conducted to make sure that the program I designed accurately reflected the stories people with disabilities wanted to share while being relatable to children.
After designing the program, I partnered with the vice-chairperson of SUMH to deliver lesson takeovers in Klubben A54, a youth club in Aarhus, and in Aarhus International School. We worked with thirty kids between the ages of 10-14 and assessed their learnings afterwards.
“The motivation has to be there for someone that has no association with disabilities to just do something about it.”… Just understanding isn’t enough anymore. We focused on the awareness or ages, but we put a very limited amount of effort and time into the action.” – Gearoid, MyAccess Hub.
Just learning about disabilities is not enough, we need to show kids how they can take action and change the way society currently views disabilities. That is why a design challenge was incorporated into the program. We also need to encourage curiosity amongst the kids and show them how to critically question the world around them.
“People tend to forget/have no idea that I’m physically disabled because of the way that I behave – that obviously lines up with all the stereotypes that disability looks like one static thing, which it never does.” – Betty, journalist and PWD.
People often have an certain idea of what a disability is, and we need to dismantle any harmful preconceptions that kids may have. This is lead to designing an activity all about Breaking Assumptions.
WeWill design outcome
After delivering the workshops in Aarhus, I asked the kids to write down their main takeaways from the activities. Their responses perfectly encapsulated why learning about disabilities is valuable and how play is an effective method of doing so.
”I learned what “disabilities” means and realised they are practically like us.” – Kayla, 11 years old.
”I have cerebral Palsy and I really liked the activities, it gave me a chance to actually talk to the other kids about my disabilities in a positive way.” – Lea, 13 years old.
”I learned that even with a disability you still havea life that you dream of.” – Olivia, 10 years old.
Sabhín is industrial designer on the MA Design for People Program at Design School Kolding.
Collaborator: SUMH, Aarhus International School, Aarhus Municipality
Supervisors: Eva Brandt, Canan Akoglu
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