Conference article

Enchanting technologies: Exploring the role of materiality and enchantment in special education

Wendy Keay-Bright
Centre for Applied Research in Inclusive Arts and Design (CARIAD), Cardiff School of Art and Design, Metropolitan University, UK

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Published in: Proceedings from InnArbeid International Conference on work inclusion for persons with intellectual disabilities 2019, Kristiansand, Norway 23rd May 2019

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 160:6, p. 28-29

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Published: 2019-06-17

ISBN: 978-91-7685-017-6

ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


With the introduction of a new “Successful Futures” curriculum in the UK, learners between the ages of 3 to 16 will be expected to evidence their ability to use digital media to develop their life skills, personal confidence, work skills, career planning, health and well-being (Donaldson, 2015).

Teaching staff, responsible for the implementation of this multi-faceted programme for learners with profound disabilities, have reported that, while the ambition of the curriculum suggests a more holistic approach to digital learning, technologies aimed at this audience are not fit for purpose. With regard to career planning, personal confidence, health and well-being, technologies designed for classroom use require costly financial and training investment and lack the flexibility to accommodate the diversity of learner abilities. For the more profoundly disabled children the perceived benefits of technology are misaligned to individual needs and capabilities, particularly when combined with a developmental approach that favours the achievement of developmental milestones rather than discovery-led, task free, interaction (Simmons, 2019).

In recent years interaction design for children with disabilities has been of growing interest to researchers, particularly in human factors (see work by Frauenberger et al, 2016; Read and Bekker, 2011, Campigotto et al 2013; *** 2012 – 2017). As technologies become more ubiquitous, mobile and embedded the potential to investigate the role of embodiment and bodily processes on learning has generated a body of experimental methods, software and hardware devices that seek to better understand how children learn through their intersubjective (Csordas, 2008; Fuchs, 2015, Zlatev, 2008) and contingent (Cress et al, 2013) relationships with objects, environments and other people (Osgood-Campbell, 2015, Kirsh, 2013; Gieser, 2008).

The project we describe in this paper, Enchanting Technologies, aims to contribute to this discourse by exploring how tinkering and experimenting with paper, digital and electronic components could function as a means to discover magical opportunities for developing personal confidence and well-being for learners with disabilities (Gell, 1992). In this context, the materials play a significant role in finding a common language for combining the real-world experience of teaching staff with the interests of interaction designers and artists, challenging us to make visceral real-world connections through the enchantment of things and the agency we invest in them (Boradkar, 2017).

Through a series of workshops, we have collaborated with special education teaching staff to use materials as magical “instruments of the imagination, able to enchant by movement, speed instantaneous communication and above all by bestowing upon us what cannot be fully grasped yet” (Marenko, 2017, p30). Over three workshops we have generated a series of concepts that have the potential to leverage the intersubjective abilities of learners with profound disabilities through contingent and casual interaction with [sensory] objects. During each workshop we gradually increased the fidelity of objects from paper to digital and electronic, with the most recent introducing simple modular programming. Teachers reported that access to the technical infrastructure improved their confidence in using digital and electronic components more directly with learners. This, in turn, it was suggested, could create career opportunities, that would otherwise have been missed.

Further work needs to be undertaken to establish the impact of this approach on learners. However, by using materials to scaffold the creativity of teachers, we were able to generate a range of narratives that placed enchantment at the heart of learner experience.

With regard to the Successful Futures curriculum, this project has potential to reduce the barriers of inflexibility and cost, and to make the digital future more promising, meaningful and fun for learners with PMLD.


digital, learning, material, disability, workshops, enchantment


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