This article is about a nice case study from Italy on design for autism that shows how the careful observation of the ‘state of the art’, can lead to an actualization and a useful and beneficial redesign for all the actors of a system. Blu(e) is a tablet to help autistic children to communicate and was invented by Needius, a company that deals with the design and implementation of technologies for special needs.
Let’s begin by framing the current situation and by saying that the most used method to stimulate communication in patients with autism is the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAA); this is a clinical practice to facilitate and improve the relationships of all people who have difficulty using the most common communication channels, especially oral language and writing. The most common tool consists of a set of boards with elementary and specific graphical symbols to reproduce the various elements of the language (verbs, nouns, adjectives …); each symbol collection has a different purpose and stimulates the user in a different way also based on linguistic ability and the richness of words. Because of its simplicity and intuitiveness in use, CAA is used not only in the treatment of a wide range of temporary or permanent disabilities including Alzheimer’s, Stroke and other diseases related to the nervous system, but also for the integration of foreign people.
This therapy is also widely used in the childhood and in particular for the development of verbal communication in kids with autism. From the observation of these practices the designers of Blu(e) have found an opportunity, that is to develop a digital version of a technique that is usually analog, a tablet to help autistic children to communicate. The technological solutions currently developed to face the CAA are not really up to date and mainly thought in the preparatory phase of the boards, therefore the actual progression of the therapeutic activity still takes place in a physical way.
The insight, however, was not only to modernize the game through digital, but to use all the potential of new technologies to collect data, monitor and act in a specific way. This solution relies on two of the key points of the CAA, the first is that of flexibility and customization of the cards and the second is the importance that this practice is carried out daily and especially outside the therapeutic room.
But to appreciate the innovation of Blu(e) we need to explain you how this product-service system works. Blue(e) can be requested through the website and therefore, potentially, from all the actors involved in the life of the disabled child, from the parents to the therapist to the school. In the packaging there is a code for activating the application, which allows the access to the ‘backend’, ie the platform for designing, managing and collecting data. This allows you to create symbols, divide them into categories to make specific cards for the child and finally collect data during the game activity on the tablet. This is highly qualitative and personalized information, and can therefore be easily monitored by the therapist who can use it in the development of the following steps.
Another strong point of a tablet to help autistic children to communicate is definitely to give a real voice to the phrases created through the cards and not a robotized (you know that Google Translate?); this care of the entire user experience is not obvious and is certainly a symbol of good design for disability.
“Our goal was to keep the person at the center and create a network with school, family, caregivers, professionals.”
Nicola Filippi, designer of Blu(e)
This sentence recaps well the greatest advantage brought by this product-service; in fact, observing the macro system that revolves around Blu(e) the effectiveness of the relationship between all its actors is certainly noteworthy, and this is a fundamental aspect for the success of the CAA.