While attending the Open Workshop on Technology and Autism Research at the MIT Media Lab last week, we were inspired by the potential of designing for students “in the margins.” This concept is one often explored by The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in relation to their concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Behind it is the core idea that when one designs with the needs of a particular group of individuals in mind, technologies that work better for the population at large often result. According to this principle, the needs of students in the margins continue to be catalysts for advancements and adoptions of new technologies for all learners.
As presenters at the conference this week showcased technological advancements specific to the field of autism, we were reminded of the potential for designing for those in the margins. We were inspired by technologies ranging from AI and avatars that can meaningfully interact with individuals on the autism spectrum to speech therapy apps that engage users by reflecting restricted personal interests. The experience allowed us to pause and consider what such advancements can mean for all learners. Much of the work being done in the autism technology sphere focuses on customization and personalization of learning experiences, which we believe has the potential to impact learners both on and off the autism spectrum.
We plan to keep this concept of designing for those with particular needs in mind moving forward, and we suggest you do the same. If you get the chance, take a moment to brainstorm how designing for someone in a margin could lead to advancements that benefit all.