When I first walked into my 'Perspectives in Assistive Technology' class at Stanford, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about assistive technology, except for what I’ve learned growing up with my younger autistic brother, and I didn’t have much experience designing in the field. However, what I did know was my goal for the class: to design a device that would allow children with autism, like my brother, to communicate.
Through the RAFT project - to design an affordable, hands-on educational activity kit for children with disabilities - I was able to pursue that goal, while simultaneously gaining experience as a designer. At the end of the eight weeks, I came up with the ‘Spin a story’ Activity Kit, using RAFT materials, that provides several simple ways for students to express themselves. A mixture of three activities – sequencing, storyboarding and sorting – the kit encourages students to initiate their own thoughts with a variety of textual and visual prompts. The materials used in the activity include magnetic sheets, stickers, plastic bottle caps, and blank flashcards – things that are commonly found and easily upcycled.
Looking back now, I don’t think I could have chosen to work on a better project that suited my goals and skills! For one, the experience of going through the design thinking process – from brainstorming and need finding to prototyping and ideation – was simply an incredible learning experience. I had never worked on a design project by myself prior to this one (all of my past projects were team projects), so it was definitely a new experience trying to keep myself consistently on-track and be creative at the same time.
It was also wonderful to work closely with RAFT, and to learn more about the organization. During the eight weeks of the course, I was able to meet many incredible RAFT individuals and teachers dedicated to finding new ways for their students to learn. I learned that there are many ways to keep hands on educational activities simple, fun, affordable and easily available to one and all, if you just think creatively.
On the whole, it is a gratifying feeling to realize the positive social impact this project will have in the area of education.
By Krystal Le.
Krystal Le is a Sophomore at Stanford University studying Mechanical Engineering. She recently worked with RAFT to design an affordable and accessible hands-on Activity Kit for children with special needs.