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Sonia Livingstone

March 7th, 2018

Play for all children: Robots helping children with disabilities play

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sonia Livingstone

March 7th, 2018

Play for all children: Robots helping children with disabilities play

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Educators, psychologists, therapists and engineers teamed up under COST Action, ‘LUDI – Play for Children with Disabilities’, a network seeking to achieve a common vision: creating the right conditions for children with disabilities to simply be able to play. This post explores their work, set up by Serenella Besio, Professor of Special Education and an expert in assistive technology at the University of Aosta Valley, and Pedro Encarnação, a specialist in robotics for rehabilitation at the Catholic University of Portugal. [Header image credit: Z. Frailey, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

More than 100 researchers and practitioners from 32 European countries are involved in LUDI, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of play for children with disabilities, studying the barriers these children face and how play can be facilitated for them, to bring out the role of play, emphasising how life-changing interdisciplinary research solutions can be for children with disabilities.

People with disabilities, families/carers of children with disabilities and representatives of associations for children with disabilities have all been contributing to the network, actively participating in LUDI meetings and taking part in the LUDI Advisory Board, ensuring that all the work is in the best interests of children with disabilities.

The following video links explore examples of past projects developed by members of the network.

KROG project

This project from Milan (2013–15) aimed to develop a number of games with a Kinect Robot interaction paradigm, and is mainly concerned with children with autism disorders. In this YouTube clip, robot Teo plays with a girl with Down syndrome. She makes up a game to interact with the robot, then shows it to other children – she had never interacted with others prior to this session. Teo won the Kazuo Tanie Award in 2016.

 

Kaspar project

Kaspar is a child-sized humanoid robot designed as a social companion to improve the lives of children with autism and other communication difficulties. By interacting and behaving in a child-like way, Kaspar helps teachers and parents support children to overcome the challenges they face in socialising and communicating with others. Kaspar has worked with children in rehabilitation centres across the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and has also inspired the research and design of other toys in the Netherlands. The experimental methodology adopted with NAO, the first humanoid robot, to support the play of deaf children, has been transferred to clinics in Bulgaria.

 

Uarpie project

This project aimed at developing an integrated, augmentative manipulation and communication assistive technology (AT) system for academic activities. A physical and virtual augmentative manipulation system was devised, allowing children to manipulate physical or virtual educational materials on a computer screen and to simultaneously communicate about their experiences.

 

Don’t read my lips: Assessing listening and speaking skills through play with a humanoid robot

This study investigated the potential of using the humanoid robot, NAO, as a playful tool for assessing the listening and speaking skills of seven hearing-impaired students who use cochlear implant(s) and sign language as their main communication modality.

 

GIODI project

This project tested the ludic use of some robots in the mainstream market with children with severe physical disabilities, to verify their recreational potential and the playfulness of possible ludic activities with them. The aim of the project was to elicit suggestions for further studies and for the development of new tools to support the play of children with disabilities.

 

Looking ahead

Thanks to the widespread LUDI network, these robots are now known in the research and clinical fields, and a database of assistive technologies used to support play has been set up.

Researchers in the network are now developing links with companies such as Outfit7, the creators of Talking Tom, a popular app, Chicco, PlanToys, Miniland and Trefl to discuss the accessibility and usability of toys, and how engaging they are in inclusive environments. Two of the leading institutes in the field, the Technological Institute for Children’s Products and Leisure (AIJU) and Lekotek, are also part of the network, while enfantoys, a French, recently established initiative in the field, that brings together experts from the previously well-known FM2J and Quai des Ludes, has announced its willingness to collaborate with LUDI.

LUDI members are working towards a world where all children can play with all toys, regardless of whether they have an impairment.

The network is now working on a series of guidelines on the accessibility and usability of toys, tools and devices like tablets or smartphones that are used for playing. Its key ideas are that:

  • Play for children with disabilities is not an insignificant or marginal issue.
  • Play matters for all children – and for humankind – and consequently for children with disabilities, since primarily they are children. Play matters for human development in society – growing, learning and socialising – because this is what play supports during childhood.
  • This ultimately concerns the future of us all, because happy and well-rounded children will go on to be the best citizens we can envisage for the future world.

This post gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone OBE is Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Taking a comparative, critical and contextual approach, her research examines how the changing conditions of mediation are reshaping everyday practices and possibilities for action. She has published twenty books on media audiences, media literacy and media regulation, with a particular focus on the opportunities and risks of digital media use in the everyday lives of children and young people. Her most recent book is The class: living and learning in the digital age (2016, with Julian Sefton-Green). Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe and other national and international organisations on children’s rights, risks and safety in the digital age. She was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014 'for services to children and child internet safety.' Sonia Livingstone is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Psychological Society, the Royal Society for the Arts and fellow and past President of the International Communication Association (ICA). She has been visiting professor at the Universities of Bergen, Copenhagen, Harvard, Illinois, Milan, Oslo, Paris II, Pennsylvania, and Stockholm, and is on the editorial board of several leading journals. She is on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, is a member of the Internet Watch Foundation’s Ethics Committee, is an Expert Advisor to the Council of Europe, and was recently Special Advisor to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications, among other roles. Sonia has received many awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from the University of Montreal, Université Panthéon Assas, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of the Basque Country, and the University of Copenhagen. She is currently leading the project Global Kids Online (with UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and EU Kids Online), researching children’s understanding of digital privacy (funded by the Information Commissioner’s Office) and writing a book with Alicia Blum-Ross called ‘Parenting for a Digital Future (Oxford University Press), among other research, impact and writing projects. Sonia is chairing LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission in 2017-2018, and participates in the European Commission-funded research networks, DigiLitEY and MakEY. She runs a blog called www.parenting.digital and contributes to the LSE’s Media Policy Project blog. Follow her on Twitter @Livingstone_S

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