New Haven Regional Center for Disabled...
(click to enlarge)
Staff learning to 'communicate' as kids do.
Phillip hums and finds an echo in a fiber drum while looking at Michael.
Michael, as Phillip sees him
Michael playing with teacher on floor softened with foam filled laundry bags.
Kevin climbs while Pillip looks at Michael and hums.
Carmen 'listens' with his hands because he is deaf. He enjoys feeling the vibrations of other kids' voices.
Carmen sees red outdoors through window shade.
Carmen reaches high for ball hung from ceiling ropes.
Phillip sees reflection in ledger panel.
New room filled with activity and maybe some learning

I sometimes wonder how it is that certain institutions have had the courage to give young designers with little experience (Schoolworks), the opportunity to experiment with real environmental situations, which would affect real children, using real money, (albeit, not that much). Personal connections with staff members could explain the initial suspension of doubt. Meetings or proposals written in adequate English, could sustain the process a bit further. But, ultimately, I just think that some places have a spirit of communal purpose and strength that allows them to invoke a kind of collective instinct to make, what could be considered with some justification, irrational choices.

Gary Faro of Schoolworks was introduced to the New Haven Regional Center by our friend and staff member, Sherri E. He then conducted a workshop that didn't exactly address the process of transforming the environment. What he did do is help the staff experience how the children might relate to it and how that can affect their behavior.

Noticing how closely the children focused on their hands as mediators between them and their surroundings, Gary designed some "arts and crafts" activities for the teachers. My favorite, which attempted to simulate what these kids might be experiencing, was putting inflated balloons on all ten fingers to feel the very interesting sensory distortion that resulted. The teachers immediately lost their inhibitions and began to experiment with the sound and visual stimulation that their "new hands" produced, just as their charges do. And, of course, it ended in a melee. Very, very interesting!

So, what does a designer do with "data" like this? One simple response is to try to amplify the sensory experiments children perform every day - humming, watching their hands move, rocking back and forth - and to design elements of the environment that redirect these activities into opportunities for learning and interaction with others.

These pictures illustrate some inexpensive ways of making an environment that accomplishes that.