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Description: Games and play have the potential to offer people with disabilities a cost-effective, personalized, data-driven, connected, and motivating context for otherwise tedious and repetitive wellness routines. The paramount challenge in creating playful health structures and games is creating a motivating experience with mechanics that translate into improved health outcomes—a wicked problem. To this end, I use Research through Design to explore multiple approaches to the co-creation of games and play with various populations, including children with speech impairments, adults with developmental disabilities, stroke survivors, and children with Sensory-Based Motor Disorder. I have founded and collaborated on 3 health products, which serve as case studies where I explore identifying best practices, unique insights, and suggestions for future creators. Speciﬁcally, I discuss game-ﬁrst versus therapy-ﬁrst approaches and closed-game systems versus more open-ended playful systems. Through this work, I have co-founded 2 design methods for creating playful technology drawing inspiration from social media and from content creators with disabilities. The first, Situated Play Design, is a novel approach to uncovering contextual manifestations of play as design material for everyday technology. The second, DREEM (Disability Related Empathy from Existing Media) leverages the rich cultural labor from content creators with disabilities as an entry point for developing an authentic, empathy-based assistive technology research agenda. For both of these design methods, I have employed a series of design ventures resulting in the co-creation of speculative design catalogs that serve as case studies to exemplify the value of these methods.
The contributions of this dissertation are 2-fold. The first dimension is applied: I build well-informed systems that provide a motivating context for various forms of therapy for multiple populations of people with disabilities. The second dimension is methodological: I propose Situated Play Design and DREEM as novel approaches to creating playful technology rooted in perspectives of disability social justice. Overall, my work will inspire, provoke, and empower designers to co-create innovative technology that improves the condition of some of today's toughest Wicked Problems through play and disability advocacy.