Class 2: photoresistors, dissolving space and the Magic Wand …

Everyone returned for the second class except Michael. He participated so much in the first class that I’m not too worried about him.  So it looks like we have 5 committed participants: Marsha, Branden, Mitchell, Michael and Glenda. Though we didn’t select or filter participants in any way we have ended up with 5 people people that use wheelchairs.

This class started with a review of what we covered last week and then I introduced the “Photoresistor” which is a low cost sensor. It detects presence by sensing changes in light hitting its surface. So the movement of your hand can be detected and allows you to operate switches that turn on devices without needing to touch anything, so it’s a bit magical.

Here’s what a photoresistor looks like:

Photoresistor. Electrical resistance increases with an decrease in light.

Each team wired a photosensor into a voltage divider circuit. While this is not particularly a blog to share the technology it is worth while to see the technology to understand what the challenge is here. It requires good vision, fine motor skills, a bit of logic and some patience.

The Photoresistor wired into a voltage divider circuit

Another view of the circuit

I noticed that some of the participants got up really close to see their circuit so the photo above is kind of a view from their perspective. As design researchers we want to develop empathy for the folks we are studying and really try to see and even experience from their perspective as best as we can. I mean that quite literally and in this case it is curious how beautiful and sculptural the electronics become when viewed up close. The upper photo is the view that we have of the electronics and the lower photo is the view that many folks in wheelchairs have. Quite a difference.

OK, just one more close-up of the electronics:

Photoresistor as sculpture

OK, enough on the electronics … back to the people …

Here’s Branden in a pose I saw him in frequently – head down and on or nearly on the table.

Branden getting into it

Marsha and Chiaying always worked on Marsha's lap

Mitchell working with Christine tends to sit bolt upright

Brigid and Glenda. Glenda is always focused but keeps to her personal space.

The scale of the electronics and the precision required to handle them drew me to photograph everyone’s hands at work. These photos become quite telling not just in terms of required dexterity and precision but also as a reflection of the barriers that are dissolving between people:

Intertwined - Christine and Mitchell

One composition - Chiaying and Marsha well coordinated

Personal space dissolving

Mitchell's big hands dwarf the electronics

Teamwork - Chiaying and Marsha. Marsha leans into it.

Eventually we swopped out the Photoresistor for a FSR (Force Sensitive Resistor) that you squeeze to actuate a switch.

Mitchell debugging a circuit that uses an FSR (the piece he's squeezing)

By the end of class there was quite a sense of accomplishment and the ever ebullient Branden once again could hardly contain himself:

So Proud - Branden holds up his project for the camera

At the close of each class we debrief a bit and here are Glenda’s comments from today:

Mike: “So how was it today Glenda … you came a little late and it might have been hard to step in”?

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Glenda: “Yes and I really wasn’t gonna come, cause I got started so late … the elevators wasn’t working … kinda frustrated and I was gonna go back home … and I said well … I’m not a quitter, i might as well go to class … i’m gonna be late … but … umm …I have to go get my Magic Waandd (laughter)  … so I came to class”.

(Glenda continues) “So today was um really interesting. It took us a little time to get ours working too but it did work. I really can’t wait to start using this, it’s gonna make my life a whole lot better.

A lot of the switches in my house is like high up. So I use a reacher now to turn everything on. My grandson lives with me. So he likes to play with the reacher. Calls it his monster. So whenever I need it I have to tell him “go get the monster” … so um … now i don’t have to give it to him [to play with], he can have it … so I can turn everything on with this. It’s gonna be … make my life a whole lot easier.

Every day now is like a challenge to me. Been in this chair for 5 years. Seems like every day is something different. Even the things I do over and over again. Everyday is like – I did this yesterday but why is it so hard for me again today. So this is gonna be like my magic wand”.

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