Uniekies: Changing the mindset about the abilities of disabled children

Janine Innemee
Graduation Project
June 2013 - November 2013
Company: Panton & De Nederlandse Stichting voor het Gehandicapte Kind (NSGK)
Supervisory team: Mathieu Gielen (chair) | Deger Ozkaramanli (mentor) | Ingeborg Griffioen (company mentor)
Contact: jx.innemee[a]gmail.com

The goal of this project is to design a play activity that can be played by able-bodied children and physically impaired children in their own environment. The overall purpose of the game is to improve the social interaction between children with and without a physical handicap, by changing the mindset about the abilities of disabled children. This project is a collaboration effort beween Panton, a design office in Deventer focused on health care; NSGK, a Dutch foundation dedicated to supporting projects that stimulate the development of children with disabilities in the Netherlands; and DIOPD.

Children with physical disabilities often have difficulties connecting with other children during play activities due to their limited physical abilities and rejection by able-bodied children. Nowadays, a lot of attention is paid to accessibility in play (the removal of physical barriers), while little attention is paid to inclusion (the removal of social barriers). A critical consequence of having a disability is peer isolation, and thus, enabling inclusion can improve the quality of life and happiness of the disabled child. The goal of this project is to pursue this happiness by taking the first step towards changing the mindset of children through design of a game that both groups can play together.

final layout

Uniekies is a game for children that intends to change their mindset towards children with disabilities from an inferior group to an equal or even superior group. User-research conducted at the beginning of this project showed that able-bodied children were ambivalent towards including disabled children in play activities. Playing with disabled children slowed down the game leading to boredom; however, completely excluding them caused able-bodied children to feel guilty. This dilemma between wanting to experience fun challenges versus desiring solidarity among play-mates formed the starting point for Uniekies game. The game addresses this dilemma by presenting children with physical disabilities as superheroes, because they have unique abilities due to their disability. For example, children with a hearing impairment can communicate at large distances in sign language or children with tubes or prostheses can kick very hard! Able-bodied children can also become heroes by dressing up in special suits and training their powers. For example, Bumper is a character that symbolizes a child in a wheelchair who cannot run. However, Bumper has the unique power of quickly clearing off the play-path for his followers. When playing the game, an able bodied child can wear a balloon-suit (i.e., a thread connecting 5-8 balloons around the body) to experience the challenges of being in a wheelchair in a simple and fun way. As a result, Uniekies Game creates a play context that enables challenging solidarity, and thus, resolves children’s dilemma by fulfilling conflicting concerns simultaneously.