Makerspaces & Accessibility for Dis/abled Students: Notes from Melbourne

Antonios Ktenidis, Doctoral Researcher in the School of Education, University of Sheffield.

Supervisors: Professor Dan Goodley and Dr Kirsty Liddiard

Antonios went on a secondment for the MakEY project in Melbourne from February 2018 to the beginning of April 2018. As Antonios’ thesis draws on Critical Disability Studies (Goodley, 2013) in Education, the main purpose of his secondment was to explore how accessible makerspaces are to dis/abled students as well as to what extent ‘inclusion’ was part of the discussion in their design process.  

Upon my arrival to Melbourne I was warmly welcomed by the staff members of Victoria University, including Dr Mark Vicars, Associate Professor Marcella Cacciattolo, Dr Ligia Pelosi and Dr Peter Thomas. After the introductions, I was informed that another person from the University of Oslo was on a secondment for the MakEY project at the time of my visit, that was Richard Nesnass. Peter also introduced me via email to Dr Stefan Schutt, whose work was of great interest to me. Stefan had established the ‘Lab’, a network of technology clubs for 10 to 16-year-old young people diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. For further information: http://thelab.org.au/

The first visit to a makerspace took place after getting in contact with Dr Greg Giannis, who is running a makerspace voluntarily in Collingwood College. This was also the first time to meet Richard in person, who explained more about his role in the MakEY project. Richard is the Head Engineer in the Department of Education in the University of Oslo and has designed educational research software. At the time we visited, the makerspace was not working, as Greg was expecting to get a more spacious room in the school premises to run it. Nevertheless, he was very willing to share his experience of running such a space, the activities taking place there and any difficulties that came up with it. From my observation, the room was accessible in physical terms for all students, with or without a disability. When I asked Greg whether any disabled students made use of the makerspace, his response was that he was not sure, but the makerspace was open to everyone, including the parents of the students. However, because of the materials being used and the activities taking place (e.g. dismantling desktops), there was an issue around health and safety and the risk of harming each other. Hence, students who displayed a ‘risky’ behaviour were frankly asked to leave the space.

Next, with the collaboration of Stefan, we arranged a meeting with him and Dr Sandra McKechnie, Mark Blancs and Skylie Mallingham, who were the directors of the Polytech Schools (for further information: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/programs/learningdev/techschools/Pages/default.aspx?Redirect=1).

After being explained the purpose of these schools and the ethos underlying them (a community-based approach), I asked whether there was an ‘inclusive’ agenda in the establishment of such spaces in terms of how accessible they are to disabled students. Mark referred to the involvement of special schools in the Tech Schools and their contribution to the Maker Faire, where disabled students ran activities for the attendants to be involved. For further information on Maker Faires, see: Jackie Marsh (2017) Community Makespaces and Maker Faires (http://makeyproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Makey_Literature_Review.pdf).

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Next meeting was with Professor Catherine Beavis (Deakin University), Dr Luci Pangrazio (Research Fellow at Deakin University) and Richard Nesnass. Richard showed the latest educational research software he had developed for the development of literacy in children and Catherine and Luci elaborated on their latest project around the personal data stored by the applications that children use and the safety issues that arise from it. I discussed my ‘findings’ so far around makerspaces in relation to dis/ability and to what extent (if any) it is taken into consideration.

Last but not least, I visited the Science and Technology makerspace in Mill Park library. Many public libraries in Melbourne run their own makerspaces, covering different areas, such as textile and craft, design etc. For further information: https://www.yprl.vic.gov.au/maker-spaces-yprl/

This library runs a series of programmes and events, which are open to the public, including children and families. The space was very accommodating and the makerspace had a range of equipment which could be used. All children were welcome to use the premises and the equipment. For further information about makerspaces and libraries see: Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir (2017) Makespaces in Libraries (http://makeyproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Makey_Literature_Review.pdf).

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To summarise, when I first went to Melbourne on this secondment, I held the assumption that makerspaces would be designed by able-bodied adults for able-bodied children. As Priestley (1998) argues, disabled children have been constructed as passive and dependent and any activity they engage with takes place under the scrutiny of the biomedical gaze. Even the play for disabled children is pathologized and is seen as another space for normalisation (Goodley & Runswick-Cole, 2010). And without having changed my initial belief, as this seemed to be the case most of the times, I found that there was some consideration of how disabled children can be included in makerspaces, even in their designing process.

As Marsh (2017: 100) asserts, further research is needed in relation to

The responses in makerspaces of children who have been marginalised in traditional approaches to STEM, including BME children, children from lower socio-economic groups, girls and children with physical, cognitive and/or linguistic disabilities.

Hence, the most important outcome of this trip has been that the accessibility of makerspaces remains an under-researched area and an intersectional approach exploring which children are in/excluded from such spaces would provide useful insights into how they can become fully inclusive by removing the relevant barriers.

 

References:

Goodley, D. (2013). Dis/entangling Critical Disability Studies. Disability & Society, 28:5, 631-644.

Goodley, D. & Runswick-Cole, K. (2010). Emancipating play: dis/abled children, development and deconstruction. Disability & Society, 25:4, 499-512.

Priestley, M. (1998). Childhood disability and disabled childhoods: agenda for research. Childhood,5:2, 207-223.

Marsh, J., Kumpulainen, K., Nisha, B., Velicu, A., Blum-Ross, A., Hyatt, D., Jónsdóttir, S.R., Levy, R., Little, S., Marusteru, G., Ólafsdóttir, M.E., Sandvik, K., Scott, F., Thestrup, K., Arnseth, H.C., Dýrfjörð, K., Jornet, A., Kjartansdóttir, S.H., Pahl, K., Pétursdóttir, S. and Thorsteinsson, G. (2017) Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review. University of Sheffield: MakEY Project.

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