Ways to move, ways to map: Neurodiversity in interaction design



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Ways to Move, Ways to Map: Neurodiversity in Interaction Design is an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods study that was created by a neurodivergent researcher and recruited neurodivergent participants to better understand the user experience for those with affective disorders. The study emphasizes the importance of contributions from neurodivergent users in both design thinking and broader conceptions of accessibility/accessible design, focusing on the interactions between people, technology, and environments as well as participants’ own ways of moving and being in the world. The project stemmed from three roots: 1) the researcher’s daily, lived frustration as a bipolar person, 2) the researcher’s frustration at consistently seeing accessible design research overlook those with non-physical disabilities, and 3) the narrowing of accessibility to single-context, single-technology praxis in best practice standards. The study combines methodologies and methods from user-centered design, technical communication, disability studies, feminist studies, and health communication. Data was collected in three phases, all qualitative and emphasizing user or participant stories. The first phase was an analysis of 2,364 user product reviews for mood diary apps to collect user data on designs specifically marketed toward those with mental illness. The next phase involved 12, semi-structured interviews with participants who self-identified as having affective disorders. The final method, photovoice, collected video projects created by five participants with affective disorders, to see how they view their environments and what they do within them. The dissertation concludes by returning to research questions focused on interaction design, qualitative methodologies and methods, and the neurodivergent experience. Findings from this study ranged from the pragmatic, single-context solutions (ex: allow Google Maps to customize routes based on foot traffic) to more philosophical questions of design practice (ex: what does anticipatory scheduling or strange temporality look like as an accessibility criterion in technology?), but they are all centered on ways of thinking, being, and moving in the world, and how technical communicators can better work to incorporate these practices and philosophies into both design and research practices.

This dissertation won 2nd Place in the Texas Tech University Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation Award, Humanities/Fine Arts, 2021.

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Technical Communication, Accessibility, Interaction Design, User-Centered Design, Disability Studies, User Experience, Photovoice, Mental Illness, Affective Disorders