Accessibility and diversity have always been the cornerstone of my research and teaching philosophies. All my research projects have focused on underrepresented communities, particularly people with disabilities. As a woman who has overcome the adversity associated with having a disability, I recognize the unique challenges inherent in academia. I draw on this personal experience to give me insight to connect with and mentor students from diverse backgrounds. Accordingly, inclusiveness is central to my research, teaching, and service goals.
My desire to create a more equitable and inclusive community has been reflected throughout my research agenda both nationally and internationally. Locally, I have served as an instructor for Technology in the Workplace workshops for young adults with autism for the past four years. These workshops have served approximately 60 students per year, and helped to place high school students with jobs and entry into college. My research has also brought me to work with people with visual impairments in the Washington DC area through the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I assisted the National Federation for the Blind in their national elections with the deployment of more accessible voting machines. Internationally, I have worked in both Mexico and Japan with autistic children, developing affordable software systems to be used in local communities. In each of these projects, my overall goal was to use my expertise to serve the needs of the local community.
I have taken on a variety of leadership roles through participation in community outreach and diversity initiatives. At Washington State University Vancouver, I founded the Women in Computing group. The representation for women in this computer science program was 5%; I was the only woman in my cohort. Therefore, as the inaugural President, I organized an outreach event to promote computing for women, including speaking on a panel about my experiences as a student. There was overwhelmingly positive feedback from the over 40 local community college women in attendance. This past academic year, I stepped into a prominent leadership role and served as the elected Informatics Graduate Student Association President, which included organizing and hosting weekly networking opportunities with notable visiting scholars. As part of my service role in the Assistant Professor position, I would continue working on committees to promote diversity in STEM programs and outreach to potential students.
As an incoming underrepresented PhD student, I participated in the Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE) Competitive Edge program. Eager to share my experiences with others, I completed training in the Mentoring Excellence Program and served as a mentor to other underrepresented students entering the Informatics program. My mentees have graduated and gone on to graduate school and into industry. Under my mentorship, one of the women who attended my Women in Computing event successfully completed her four-year degree in Computer Science. Before her degree she held a minimum wage position, but is now working as a software programmer for a large company and plans on returning to graduate school.
Growing up and being in Seattle for much of my life, I was fortunate to live in such a diverse community and that has become integral to the balance I would like to see reflected in the students and staff that I might have the opportunity to work with. In all aspects of my career, research, teaching, and service, I will continue to achieve broader impact through inclusion and accessibility.
The ability to access social interactions is important for everyone, but many people may often be denied access or experience reduced access because of physical, cognitive, or social barriers. A lack of quality access leads to impoverished social experiences and a host of other problems such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety. My research agenda aims to understand how we can design and develop technology to support social interactions – exploring how sociality crosses into both physical and virtual spaces. For physical environments, I have designed and developed assistive technology as a therapeutic tool using whole-body interactive systems to expand modes of communication. Beyond physical spaces, my dissertation focuses on social interactions within and across social media platforms, including a Minecraft virtual world for children with autism, through ethnographic methods. In my future research, I will explore how individuals navigate access not only from platform to platform, but also from the physical world to the virtual and back again. Insight from this work will lead to theoretical and practical contributions of how individuals with disabilities and their social networks adopt, use, and modify technical systems that facilitate social interactions. Further, my work will lead to a better understanding of these communities and how to design more inclusive technology.
Assistive Technology for Children with Autism
Whole-Body Interactive Systems
Access to otherwise prohibitively expensive (e.g., money, time, energy) therapy is made possible by using whole-body interactive technology and augmenting the therapeutic and home environments for users. I conducted research of two systems using whole-body interactions – SensoryPaint and DanceCraft – which augmented therapies already being employed by children with autism. Both systems were developed using the Kinect, an inexpensive device that can be placed in a user’s home or doctor’s office. These projects allow for a more inclusive therapeutic environment by creating accessible, inexpensive solutions.
SensoryPaint uses a projection on a wall that the users interacted with using rubber balls. The user receives visual feedback of their activity via a silhouette displayed on the projection. The system allows for multiple types of interaction. For example, the user can digitally “paint” with the Kinect, tracking the ball and displaying the ball’s path in various colors on the wall (See Figure A). The user can also throw the ball at the projection to get a “splash” effect (See Figure B). From the results of the pilot study of SensoryPaint, I found that whole-body interactions can be more engaging for children than traditional therapies by giving participants different interactive options that suit their specific sensory needs. Including a flexible interface allows both therapists and children to use relevant segments of the program and change settings as needed. I presented these results at the Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp) where I was nominated for a Best Paper award .
Following the SensoryPaint study, I led a team of undergraduates to design and develop the DanceCraft system. The interface uses a similar silhouette feature that gives the user visual feedback on their activity. The user follows along with pre-recorded dances displayed as a “paper doll” figure (See Figure C). By including a feature to replay recorded dances on-the-fly, therapists and instructors can record dances specific for each child and session. The replay feature also allows for children to watch their own dance choreographies, giving them instant feedback. A therapist can then track a child’s progress across sessions through their saved recordings. Future iterations of the DanceCraft software will calculate whether the user’s captured dance moves are the correct dance moves as prescribed by the therapist. A pilot study of DanceCraft showed the feasibility of augmenting therapy in the home. I coauthored these preliminary findings, which were presented at the ACM Tapia Diversity conference , and a manuscript for the Transactions of Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) journal is currently in progress. Future work on these whole-body interactive systems will focus on creating intelligent software that can adapt to a growing, developing child’s needs and be intuitive for parents and therapists.
3D Printing from User-created Models in the Minecraft Virtual World
Minecraft is a popular virtual “sandbox” – with currently over 27 million units of the software sold – where players can build and create objects, environments, and worlds with a high degree of freedom. The multiplayer-capabilities of virtual worlds in Minecraft make it an ideal system for examining how technology facilitates and drives social interactions between users. I designed and programmed software that allows players to 3D print models of objects they have created within Minecraft. The application takes the coordinates of an object and translates it into a file that can be sent to a 3D printer, making their creations come to life in a sense. I designed the software to leverage the familiar interface by creating it as an add-on for Minecraft. To use the program, the user creates the 3D printing “magic wand” object within the virtual world, types in commands for the wand in the Minecraft interface, and then saves the files to the local computer. This program has potential in establishing engaging social interactions with greater accessibility due to the inherent nature of virtual environments, where conditions such as geographical or physical limitations are less hindering. Future work in this project will explore how users experience blending virtual creation of 3D objects with their tangible, physical representations. As part of a campus-wide effort to retain underrepresented students in STEM, this work was presented by my undergraduate mentee at the UCI Summer Research Symposium .
Exploring Virtual Worlds as a Support for Social Play in Children with Disabilities
Autcraft is a specific iteration of a Minecraft virtual world dedicated to children with autism and their allies. Drawing from work in Disability Studies, my dissertation examines data collected from ethnographic research conducted over three years in Autcraft (See Figure D). My research has uncovered how the Autcraft community works to create a safe, inclusive space through both social and technical means . Parents actively work to maintain safety and accessibility in the Autcraft community through modifying Minecraft and other mainstream technology to create assistive devices . Additionally, the findings from this work indicate the importance of a supportive communication framework (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch) that has emerged in the Autcraft community . This constellation of social media is comprised of different platforms used in tandem to create a social, community experience. Community members can thereby empower themselves through online activism that supports better treatment of individuals with disability . This also gives the children an outlet to express themselves creatively on safe online platforms . Ultimately, I found the community searches for, practices, and defines sociality through the various communication channels and means of communication indicating evolving definitions of what it means to be social [3,7]. Results from this research project have appeared in multiple venues, including Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).
Contributions of Dissertation
My dissertation contributes an empirical understanding of how access is granted to some individuals and not to others, creating an uneven distribution of experiences when interacting with technologies. This includes an exploration of how the intersectionality of multiple identities of community members, such as autistic or child, impacts social play online and how social play enables the performance of these identities. Insight from my work can help shape our scholarly understanding of how users approach technology, as well as some of the work marginalized users do to fully experience interactions. This includes some of the “Do-It-Yourself” activities individuals engage in to make systems more usable for themselves and their communities.
In this work, I highlight the value of virtual social interactions for marginalized users. When scholars, designers, therapists, or parents privilege physical, face-to-face social interactions over virtual ones, they run the risk of making invisible those who prefer, or have better access to, virtual social interactions. My dissertation challenges the mainstream discourse and contributes to normalizing social play as it occurs in virtual spaces for children with autism. Often, society tells these children they should focus solely on their physical-world engagements, while their online relationships and experiences are discounted. Children with autism are just one example of a subset of people who may prefer virtual interactions.
Finally, my work contributes a new way for HCI researchers to define and study social media. This work expands the definition of social media to include games and virtual worlds, beyond the scope of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. The ethnographic methods used in this project also exemplify how HCI researchers should look beyond the bounds of a single social platform to understand a user or a community of users. Social media platforms work together to create an organic network for social interaction. This holistic lens of research allows for a far more complete understanding of users, which is necessary to create access and inclusion.
My future research program will continue to explore the frontier where physical and virtual interactions no longer simply coexist, but are seamless. My work will encompass the following three themes: 1) understanding how people use a constellation of social platforms, 2) understanding disabled embodied experiences as mediated by technology, and 3) using the lens of intersectionality to represent a more complete person regardless of ability. To explore these threads, my research lab will engage in community-based work with individuals with disability and relevant organizations. Together we will answer questions regarding how we can design and develop sustainable technology that mediates social interactions and how access to these social interactions will improve quality of life. Research activities will include: designing and developing software for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms in tandem with whole-body sensors; holding workshops with marginalized individuals to both help with the design of these systems and to test the efficacy of the systems; and outreach programs with students in the department with local groups and schools.
This research will not only further the field in terms of understanding how people can build innovative technology, but also aid in the academic STEM pipeline for underrepresented students. As with my previous work, I will continue to mentor graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in working with marginalized populations in the areas of technology, games, and media studies. Results from this work will be published in conferences and journals geared towards HCI (such as CHI, Ubicomp, and ASSETS). My goal is to produce scientific results from multiple, diverse perspectives that will ensure a broader impact.
 J.K. Brown, K.E. Ringland, and G.R. Hayes. 2016. DanceCraft: A Whole-Body Dance Software for Children with Autism. Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing 2016.
 K.E. Ringland. 2017. On Being “Autsome”: An Exploration of Online Social Play as a Means of Empowering Autistic Youth. Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association.
 K.E. Ringland. 2017. Minecraft as a Site of Sociality for Autistic Youth. QGCon 2017.
 K.E. Ringland, L.E. Boyd, H. Faucett, A.L.L. Cullen, and Gillian R. Hayes. 2017. Making in Minecraft: A Means of Self-Expression for Youth with Autism. In Proc. IDC 2017, ACM.
 K.E. Ringland, C.T. Wolf, L.E. Boyd, M. Baldwin, and G.R. Hayes. 2016. Would You Be Mine: Appropriating Minecraft as an Assistive Technology for Youth with Autism. In Proc. ASSETS 2016, ACM.
 K.E. Ringland, C.T. Wolf, L. Dombrowski, and G.R. Hayes. 2015. Making “Safe”: Community-Centered Practices in a Virtual World Dedicated to Children with Autism. In Proc. CSCW 2015, ACM.
 K.E. Ringland, C.T. Wolf, H. Faucett, L. Dombrowski, and G.R. Hayes. 2016. “Will I always be not social?”: Re-Conceptualizing Sociality in the Context of a Minecraft Community for Autism. In Proc. CHI 2016.
 K.E. Ringland, R. Zalapa, M. Neal, L. Escobedo, M. Tentori, and G.R. Hayes. 2014. SensoryPaint: A Multimodal Sensory Intervention for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders. In Proc. UbiComp, ACM.
 Tamimi, A., Ringland, K.E., Hayes, G.R. 2016. “Developing a User-Friendly System to 3D Print Minecraft Creations.” UCI Summer Research Colloquium. Irvine, CA.
I have now borrowed parts of my email signature from so many other people I felt the need to write a short blog article explaining them. I’d also like to give appropriate attribution to those who have given me all these wonderful tips.
My email signature:
Informatics PhD Candidate
Social & Technological Action Research Group
University of California, Irvine
If you have an accommodation need for a planned meeting, please email me directly and I will do my best to make appropriate arrangements. Should you require any materials sent via email in an alternate format, please let me know.
Preview: Maker culture values fabrication and production in both the digital and physical realms as well as the sharing of resources. As such, maker culture provides an opportunity to be democratic and inclusive. Likewise, spaces that stem from maker culture, such as makerspaces, provide the same opportunity for inclusion, even for those with disabilities. In this paper, we explore design implications for the creation of inclusive spaces for making and self-expression in the future based on intensive fieldwork in the Autcraft community.
What if makerspaces could be made inclusive and accessible for children who prefer virtual interactions over physical interactions? Stemming from arts and crafts communities and originally focused on physical engagement with materials to be formed and “made” into products, prototypes, and projects, maker culture has evolved to include hacker culture which uses a wide variety of software, hardware, and craft materials. Present-day maker culture includes online and offline fabrication and production, sharing of resources, and social norms around the act of making. Communities of makers inhabit spaces that are built to have a low barrier to entry, support those interested in learning to be makers, and encourage sharing of resources.
In this paper, we explore how “mixed-ability maker culture” supports self-expression in children with autism through an online community centered around the popular game, Minecraft. Autcraft is a community that supports children with autism and is centered on a Minecraft virtual world that embodies maker culture. The Autcraft community’s unique form of maker culture supports self-expression, sociality, and learning for children with autism by providing structure in a virtual space, allowing for and enabling creating and sharing. Our results show how the “mixed-ability maker culture” found within the Autcraft community, supports children with autism in imaginative making and self-expression and we provide design implications for creating inclusive spaces for making and self-expression.
Autcraft is a Minecraft community for children with autism and their allies run by parent volunteers. The goal of the Autcraft community is to have a safe space for children with autism to play Minecraft free from harassment and bullying (for more information visit the Autcraft website). As part of our study, I have been conducting an on-going ethnography within the community (see our paper for details). This study included analysis of activity within the Minecraft server, forums, website, Twitter, Facebook group, YouTube, and Twitch.
Analysis of our data indicates that the constraints and affordances of this virtual environment provide structure for children to create and share in rich and varied ways without the barriers they would typically face in the physical world. By understanding the values in the Autcraft community through a lens of mixed-ability maker culture, we can see how these values encourage and support autistic children in their endeavors in self-expression.
Making in Minecraft: Minecraft, at its core, is a game about building with blocks in a virtual world. In Autcraft, community members have created complex, expressive spaces within their virtual world. They have done this through using construction materials found within the world, both as they are meant to be used (e.g., using bricks to pave a walkway), but also in unexpected ways (e.g., using a piston as a table).
Creating to Share with Others: Community members share with other players through the virtual world (i.e., announcing in the chat) as well as through the community forums. Community members can provide advice and feedback in the comments of the forums and in-world when they are touring the creation. This practice allows others to learn from previous building projects, as well as giving builders a sense of pride in their own work. Community members also share with those outside the Autcraft community. Players build and show off their work through platforms such as forums, YouTube, and Twitch—such as through their YouTube “Let’s Play” videos. “Let’s Play” are edited videos of players playing through a video game, giving viewers a first-person experience of playing the game. It is against this cultural backdrop that members of the Autcraft community use their virtual world and the other existing social media to express themselves. This self-expression allows them to foster relationships within the Autcraft community, as well as to reach out to others beyond their community.
Through these results, we’ve found key issues for designing these types of “mixed-ability maker culture” imbued systems.
Accommodations for Access. The virtual world is not immune to the need for environmental accommodations. Modifications allow for those with disabilities to participate in a way that is suitable for them in a space where they might otherwise find themselves excluded.
Bounded Freedom. The boundaries found within Autcraft help enhance the creativity of the members. This includes the boundaries within the virtual world (the world and its resources are finite), the social boundaries imposed by the community, and the expectation that one member’s creative self-expression does not infringe upon another member’s self-expression.
Opportunity-Rich Environment. The Minecraft world is rich – full of objects, biomes, and creatures. This allows users to create narratives and even a mythos from these resources. The Minecraft game itself does not come with a history or backstory but allows players to create new history as the player explores and alters the world. It is this richness that sets the foundation for allowing for inclusivity. Disabilities, even those of the same diagnostic umbrella, are incredibly diverse and experiences occur in a myriad of ways.
Social Support. The presence of moderators, helpers, and peer mentors support expression for community members. More experienced members help the less experienced members learn how to build, where to get resources, and even give tips on how to create forum posts and videos. This social support also comes with the expectation that community members will be inclusive.
Social Conventions. The Minecraft community at large embraces creative players and the Autcraft community continues this trend by encouraging members to express themselves through building, roleplaying, storytelling, and sharing their created content through social media (g., through streaming on Twitch, recording YouTube videos, and posting screenshots in the forums).
These design features support children with autism as they learn skills to express themselves. Designers and researchers interested in creating other technical systems can infuse some of the maker culture to create spaces that foster learning, sharing, and self-expression.
For more details about our methods and findings, please see our paper that has been accepted to IDC 2017 (to appear in June 2017). Full citation and link to the pdf below:
Kathryn E. Ringland, LouAnne Boyd, Heather Faucett, Amanda L.L. Cullen, Gillian R. Hayes. Making in Minecraft: A Means of Self-Expression for Youth with Autism. In IDC 2017. [PDF]
Acknowledgements: We thank the members of Autcraft for the warm welcome into their community. We also thank members of LUCI and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this paper, and Robert and Barbara Kleist for their support. This work is covered by human subjects protocol #2014-1079 at the University of California, Irvine.
This week I attended my first Digital Media and Learning conference, which was held here on the UC Irvine campus. I thought I would write a short recap of my experiences. Disclaimer: these thoughts are by no means all encompassing.
My first impressions of the DML community is that they are very friendly and very passionate about what they do. It’s a wonderful combination for someone joining in for the first time. There was also lots of engagement on Twitter throughout the conference, which I found to be a helpful way to make the event more accessible.
While I enjoyed all the sessions I attended, the keynote and plenary conversation were definitely the highlights. The conversations I had in between sessions and during the reception were by far the most inspiring part of the conference for me in terms of ideas for my own scholarly work.
“Games are an amazing architecture for engagement” #2016DML
What is most exciting for me are the following two takeaways:
1. Play and games are truly coming into their own in the academic space. I am so excited to see games research in these more educational and learning spaces realize the potential of well designed games (i.e., not those educational games that kids see straight through and aren’t fun at all to play.)
2. There were hints and whispers throughout DML of inclusion. For many this meant socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, gender, but very little about ability. The last two ignite talks at the end of the conference were calls for more disability work in the space. I whole-heartedly agree and am very excited to contribute next year as I can.