Innovative circus ‘app’ in line for national autism award

Posted on 25th February 2015

A research project, led by a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Chester, has been shortlisted for a prestigious national innovation award.

A young user makes the most of the new Show and Tell app.
A young user makes the most of the new Show and Tell app.
The great thing about Show and Tell is that it’s practical and transferrable to other arts organisations.
Cath Logan

Dr Tracy Piper-Wright, of the University’s Department of Art and Design, is lead researcher on a digital project that will eventually help autistic children prepare for events that might otherwise cause anxiety – in this case, a cultural occasion such as a visit to the circus. 

Tracy, in collaboration with arts organisation Circus Starr, technology developer Therapy Box and in association with the National Autistic Society, has helped create Show and Tell, an interactive visual story app that aims to widen the scope of arts participation and engagement among autistic people, through the use of technology.

 Show and Tell – one of two finalists in the Best New Technical Innovation category in the National Autistic Society’s (NAS) Autism Professionals Awards 2015 – is a ground-breaking new app for children that gives them a virtual ringside seat at the circus, helping them prepare for their visit through a colourful mix of live action images, exclusive behind the scenes footage and audio clips and captions. The app also provides a template that can be adapted to suit other arts and cultural experiences.

Tracy’s experience in audience engagement led to her involvement in the project, collecting data, managing the research methodology and writing the final research report. She said: “It’s very rewarding to learn that our work stood out among the many projects nominated for this award.  When I started working on the project a year ago, I knew very little about autism and how it affects people.  But I’ve learned a lot and believe our work will really help improve the lives of people with autism.” 

The NAS Awards seek to acknowledge the outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals, teams and organisations who have demonstrated excellence, dedication and commitment to improving the lives of people with autism. The winners will be announced at the NAS’ Professional Conference in Harrogate on March 3.

Show and Tell project manager, Circus Starr’s Cath Logan, said: “Show and Tell is both highly interactive and adaptable. Children can familiarise themselves with the Big Top experience and develop ‘coping strategies’ for this unique environment.  After the show, they can personalise their circus story with uploaded images, footage and text of their own to create a lasting memory.

“The great thing about Show and Tell is that it’s practical and transferrable to other arts organisations.  It provides a blueprint for an infinite range of support tools that will allow children and adults with autism to access and enjoy the arts – and other ‘unknown’ situations – in a way that’s not been possible until now.”

Show and Tell was shortlisted by a panel of 11 autism experts, who judged the project on its innovation, creativity, impact and sustainability. The app is free to download and available for iPhone, iPad and iPod devices.  The collaborative is currently seeking further funding to produce a version for android devices, as well as developing future uses for the app that will help with other challenging events, such as a trip to the dentist or starting a new school.

Development of Show and Tell is supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts – Nesta, Arts and Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.