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More work needed to include children’s views in research

7 September 2021

New techniques should be used when designing communication technologies to include perspectives from children with severe speech and physical impairments, according to research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

Child with parent at desk. Image: Gustavo Fring via Pexels

A recently published article by Dr Seray Ibrahim (UCL Knowledge Lab) looks at how methodological decisions made by researchers can impact how they engage with children’s voices.

When designing technologies that can mediate communication for children, the voices of children with severe speech and physical impairments are rarely heard because it is often difficult to involve this population through traditional methods, like asking children what they think. As a replacement, researchers often involve proxies in place of children, like parents or expert professionals.

Dr Ibrahim and the research team found that researcher beliefs, the use of different methods, and observing children’s ways of participating all influenced researchers’ findings. They stress that it is important for people conducting research to be clear to others about the perspectives and different data sources that influence their decisions. Some data collection methods, such as taking photos, can be less empowering for children as they can focus on how the researcher sees the situation.

By reflecting on their own beliefs and practices, Dr Ibrahim and the team critically examined their methodological decisions and how empowering they were for children with disabilities.

Following their examination, the research team proposed four considerations that can be useful for researchers and practitioners when undertaking participatory work involving children with disabilities. These include: 

  1. Using theoretical lenses to guide data collection, analysis and interpretation 
  2. Developing credible accounts through strong and prominent ideas 
  3. Considering how children’s ways of participating evidence their voices
  4. Being aware of methods hindering the promotion of child centred accounts.

Dr Ibrahim said: “In research, it can be notoriously difficult to hear and respond to the views of children who communicate in ways beyond speech, particularly because of the challenges of interpreting children’s ideas and contributions. In our research, we highlighted some of the ways that researcher methodological decisions can be both empowering and disempowering for children and invite other researchers and practitioners to critically reflect on their own decision making when inviting children to share their views.”

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Gustavo Fring via Pexels