Empowering young adults on the autistic spectrum: Reframing assistive technology through design

Jelle van Dijk, Melina Kopke, Niels van Huizen, Loes van Uffelen, Laura Beunk

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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Increasingly, assistive technologies are designed to ‘empower’ people with cognitive and social challenges. But what does it mean to say technology
empowers? In a four-year participatory Research-through-Design project we addressed this question. Eleven autistic young adults participated in designing MyDayLight: an IoT system supporting self-management of domestic activities. Contextual inquiry, co-design, design reflection, prototype deployment and embodied interaction theory were woven together in an iterative reflective process. This allowed us to critically address certain background assumptions that typically underly common understanding of assistive technologies. We present three reframings of our evolving concept of ‘empowering technology’:
1) From ‘planned reminder’ to ‘situated attention grabber’
2) From ‘supporting action’ to ‘scaffolding developing your own supportive environment’
4) From ‘assistive product’, to ‘co-design tool in a larger transformational process’. Instead of supporting ‘self-sufficiency’, MyDayLight expresses
a developmental-experiential interpretation of empowerment. It helps users experiment with reconfiguring their own environment, reflect on their experiences and gradually develop more grip on life. The design artifacts enabled young adults on the spectrum and their care-givers to share, question- and reframe implicitly held understandings and to imagine and explore new ways for assistive technology to play an empowering role in a person’s life-world.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Event4th RTD Conference: Design United - Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 19 Mar 201922 Mar 2019
Conference number: 4


Conference4th RTD Conference: Design United
Abbreviated titleRTD 2019
Internet address


  • Empowerment
  • Technology
  • Co-design
  • Participatory Design
  • Embodied interaction

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