Mon, 03 Dec 2018
This post explores how repair activities and, more specifically, community repair events are well suited to many autistics and other neurodivergents, and how to ensure that these events are welcoming to all neurodivergents. Its content is based on notes that have been refined in presentations and discussions at Fixfest 2017, Fixfest UK 2018 and the PARC Autistic Fringe (Glasgow) 2018.
Community repair, an activity well suited for neurodivergents
Repair is a combination of manual, intellectual and emotional activities
- Repairing encompasses investigative work, research, problem solving, working with hands, visual analysis, documenting…
- Strong focus, flow and persistence are essential parts of problem solving. When repairing, it is common to ‘get in the zone’ or get in a ‘flow state’ (an attention tunnel)
- Repairing is an opportunity for deep engagement with devices. You ask them questions, they answer you. It can be a challenging conversation. A kind of relationship or friendship (Pirsig). Personification: ‘attribution of human characteristics to non-human agents’. Personification is more prevalent among autistics (White & Remmington)
- The act of repairing can be as or more significant than the outcome of the repair. With each repair, one gains knowledge and experience
- Emotional engagement. A successful repair is a joyful event. When something isn’t repairable it can be a 'small tragedy’, however one gains experience and knowledge even when this happens
- Fixing is a positive activity
Community repair is more than just repairing
- Repair events are opportunities for conversations on a shared theme with those bringing their broken devices
- Narrow shared topics of conversation facilitate relationships between people and are also occasions to gain confidence and self-esteem
- Teaching repair skills can contribute to greater social cohesion and individual well-being
- Repair events are sociable, involving people who might otherwise feel isolated
- When struggling to do things, repair events are occasions to do something, one can just get on with fixing
- It only require a limited commitment of one event at a time
- Each event is time bound
- The scale of repair events makes them much more approachable than, for example, big shops
Social justice in action
- Many in minorities such as neurodivergent people tend to be highly committed to social justice
- ‘In a disposable society, to repair is to rebel.’ (The Economist)
- Repairing and teaching repair is doing something for the environment
- Repairing extends life of products, and doing so minimise their environmental impact
- Repairing can help avoid expenses
- Teaching repair skills helps improve resilience, a form of resistance
Identifying potential issues
- Are repair events inclusive for everyone? Do they involve people who might otherwise feel isolated?
- How to deal with potential conflicts between what is best for the majority vs. for the minority? E.g.,
- Space: setting tables and repairers close to each make the event look busy however such a layout would be detrimental to those needing more personal space
- Time: people waiting wanting repair to happen as quickly as possible vs. repairer fully engaged in one repair
- Light: strong lighting is useful when repairing a device but may hurt those sensitive to light
- Noise: after a fix, devices should be tested, however sounds such as those of vacuum cleaners are painful to those hypersensitive to sound
Some recommendations (mostly for events’ hosts)
- Consider the sensory environment, e.g., noise, lighting conditions
- Advertise the venue’s characteristics such as noise level and type of lighting so that fixers can decide whether it’s a venue they can work in (and others can join in with their broken devices)
- Arrange the tables to ensure that there’s a quieter corner, preferably without fluorescent lighting nearby
- Ensure that fixers are in the space most suitable for them (possibly outdoor if suitable)
- Ensure that those who need it have enough personal space
- Don’t call loudly for the next person waiting with their broken device, just next to someone who is sensitive to noise
- Give noisy devices, such as vacuum cleaners, to fixers who are not sensitive to noise and are sitted as far away as possible to those who are
- Avoid time pressures
- Make sure that fixers are ok, that they have a drink and take breaks - even if people are waiting
- Give fixers enough time to focus on each repair - even if it’s a busy event
- Pair people so one can buffer issues for another
- Ask fixers for their accessibility needs
- If someone is competent to fix but can’t integrate with the team or the organisation and you can’t find ways to accomodate them, try to figure this early as rejection can have a dramatic effect on some. Also consider safeguarding issues
- Organise debriefs after events to find out what worked and what didn’t
(*) Spoons refer to Christine Miserandino’ spoon theory, a metaphor for managing one’s energy. Spudgers are flat plastic or metal tools essential to open most electronic devices (and apparently originating from late Middle English spuddle (“short knife”)).
About the Restart Project
The Restart Project helps people learn how to repair their broken electronics, through our Restart Parties: free community repair events where participants can work with a skilled volunteer to fix anything with a plug or a battery. They’re spaces for learning skills and reflecting about how we consume in the first place. Repair is fun, it’s social, it saves money, and helps us be creative and constantly learn.
The Restart Project has been proactive in encouraging inclusivity across genders, in particular with the Rosie the Restarter skill shares. Nothing similar yet exists for neurodivergents.
About neurodiversity and autism
‘Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence.’ Jim Sinclair
‘Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.’ Nic Walker
Autistics have spiky profiles, an unusual combination of abilities and challenges. Autistics can find some tasks easy and others difficult, and this may change depending not just on the task, but also on the environment, and recent experiences. It is common for autistics to be over (hyper) and/or under (hypo) sensitive to some of their senses; and there are more than five, e.g., sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, temperature, pain, kinaesthetic sense (proprioception), balance, etc. Processing sensory information can be overwhelming.
A few links
If you have other suggestions to make community repair events welcoming to neurodivergents, you can post in this Restarters.net thread (free registration required).