Social play is an important part of childhood development that is often inaccessible for children with disabilities, especially when emphasis is placed on face-to-face physical world interactions. Sometimes individuals with disabilities cannot engage in normative physical-world play and, instead, turn to virtual-worlds. Research on virtual spaces for individuals with disabilities has found that these virtual sites can be empowering, create a sense of community for those who are cut-off in the physical world, and allow individuals to perform identities that might not be possible for them in the physical world. However, children with disabilities face challenges of accessibility and acceptance in both physical and virtual spaces, including bullying and alienation. For three years, I have been working closely with a Minecraft virtual world community for children with autism, Autcraft, in an on-going online ethnography. Community members engage in social play and, in doing so, reshape what it means for disabled persons with to interact with others. I expand previous research on the social practices of autistic individuals on social media by looking specifically at Minecraft as a site of creativity and sociality. I draw out the importance of using theoretical lenses from disability studies to conduct research with and for, rather research on, those with disabilities. In my presentation, I will discuss my ethnographic findings of how Minecraft supports autistic youth in their social play and how we, as researchers, can expand the reach of our messages about the importance of neurodiversity and the impact of digital social play.
Kathryn E. Ringland is an Informatics PhD Candidate in the School of Information and Computer Sciences, under the advisement of Dr. Gillian Hayes. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Washington State University Vancouver. Her research interests include studying and designing assistive technology for youth with disabilities. Her dissertation work is exploring how an online Minecraft community for children with autism uses social media and games to support socialization. She can be reached by email at [email@example.com] and twitter [@liltove]. Her website is: [kateringland.com]