Users’ role in co-designing products has changed: from influencing outcomes to influencing development/design; from standardizing to customising products/outcomes; from participating to engaging designers/developers. Although this participatory design (PD) approach makes users’ role more prominent it has been under-utilised for the technological development of products for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD). The purpose of this paper is to present a responsible research and innovation example, in conversation skills training for people with autism, using virtual reality (VR).
The PD approach was adopted during the iterative development of the virtual world and training materials. Multiple baseline design was utilised consisting of three participants on the mild/moderate end of the autism spectrum. Participants joined 15–16 sessions over four phases of structured conversations, delivered both face-to-face and virtually.
The feedback sessions revealed that the participants felt VR has the potential in providing training for people with autism spectrum disorders. Moreover, they thought delivering the training in three formats could enhance their learning, since PowerPoints, videos and chatbot would represent teaching, showing and practicing, respectively.
PD promotes a “one-size-fits-one approach”, cultivating agile, inclusive, responsive design approaches for people with NDDs, so that outcome meets their needs and preferences, while VR training allows for a wider implementation, benefiting a wider range of learners.