Working together: Ethnographic observations on participatory design involving adults with autism

M. Ariel Cascio, Florian Grond, Rossio Motta-Ochoa, Tamar Tembeck, Dan Ten Veen, Stefanie Blain-Moraes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Understanding and improving how diverse people work together is a core concern of applied social sciences. This article reports ethnographic observations on a participatory design project in which researchers and adults on the autism spectrum worked together on the design of a new technology—biomusic. Biomusic uses a smartphone application and a wearable sensor to measure physiological signals and translate them into auditory output. Ethnographers were involved in this project, both to facilitate eliciting perspectives of different stakeholders and to observe, record, and reflect on the process. This paper discusses the relationship between ethnography and participatory design in two ways. First, it describes the contribution of ethnography to achieving the goals of participatory design. Second, it draws on ethnographic observations to highlight different strategies people with and without autism used to work together, including strategies put forth by the researchers, strategies already in place in the community, and strategies emerging from the intersection of both. These strategies created a space that was more accessible to many different types of people. Documenting the way that this group worked together challenged several stereotypes about autism and highlighted the role of autistic collaborators as agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Organization
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Autism
  • Design
  • Ethnography
  • Participatory research
  • Work


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