Flinders triumphs at soft tech awards

arata-logoThe work of Flinders University researchers to improve access to technologies for young people with disabilities has been recognised with first and second place wins at the Australian Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Association’s (ARATA) Soft Technology Awards.

PhD candidate David Hobbs’s team won first prize for their efforts to develop fun and engaging computer games for children with cerebral palsy, while Dr Pammi Raghavendra’s team won second place for their work to promote social inclusion through the Internet and social networking sites.

The awards, announced as part of ARATA’s 2012 Annual Conference in Sydney last month, aim to recognise developments, improvements and innovations in the area of ‘soft’ technology, which refers to the education and support behind tangible devices and equipment, or the ‘hard’ technology.

Mr Hobbs, a Fulbright Professional Scholar and Churchill Fellow, said it was “fantastic” to receive recognition for the work of his team, which included Flinders researchers Martin Henschke, Dr Brett Wilkinson and Professor Karen Reynolds.

“Children with cerebral palsy can’t play commercial systems because the games are either too complex or they can’t use the buttons on the controller,” Mr Hobbs, based in the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics, said.

“But we’re creating games that require a basic joystick and are really easy to play so they can succeed in what they’re doing,” he said.

“It’s about making gaming fun, accessible and enjoyable for these children – often they see commercial games in the toy catalogues or hear their friends talking about Xbox or PlayStation games so we want to give them the same opportunity to do these things too.”

Dr Raghavendra, a senior lecturer in Disability and Community Inclusion, has been investigating the role of the Internet in improving social networks for children and teenagers with disabilities. This work was presented at the ARATA conference by project officer Emma Grace, winning the second place.

The project, funded by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation under the auspices of Novita Children’s Services, has involved working with young people with disabilities to achieve their social networking goals using the Internet, including setting up a Facebook account, learning to send and receive emails and using Skype to communicate with friends and family.

“Research tells us that young people with disabilities don’t have as many friends and their social networks are limited so we thought that if we can train them to use social networking through the Internet then they will broaden their friendship groups and support networks,” Dr Raghavendra said.

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