Emily Burnham, Megan Draper, and Katie MaCauley conducting onsite observations. Photo by Robbie Mehling.

Dr. Shireen Kanakri, associate professor of interior design, has been teaching a multi-phase immersive learning course for the Children’s TherAplay Foundation in Carmel to help children with disabilities. The TherAplay program provides children with special needs innovative therapies, including equine-assisted physical and occupational therapies, for children with diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury and developmental delays.

In the first phase of the project students helped design the building layout for the TherAplay building, conducted surveys and onsite observations, and created construction documents. In spring of 2020,  students designed a new gymnasium, designed and furnished a new sensory room, and built customized furnishings for use in the therapy clinics and sensory room.

Dr. Shireen Kanakri with student Susan Lamermayer trying one of the sensory walls created for TherAplay. Photo by Robbie Mehling.

“We specifically designed pieces that will be used to help treat the children. The furniture was built and tested on campus, in the school’s lab, before being implemented at the facility in Carmel”
–Shireen Kanakri

Research findings observed through Ball State’s Healthy Autism Design Lab and Health & Environmental Design Research Lab in the interior design department run by Kanakri helped inform students in the course about sensory stimuli for children with autism and other disabilities. Students not only thought about design aesthetics of a room but also created functional spaces.

Megan Draper an Interior design senior said the course is providing her with an innovative and collaborative learning experience.

“I was collaborating on the construction of a living green wall, a self-contained garden housing many different types of plants and a built-in irrigation system, that will be placed in either the sensory room or gym area. This installation will have a positive, biophilic impact on the children through the presence and interaction of nature within the learning environment.”
–Interior Design Senior Megan Draper

Megan Draper and Katie MaCauley begin building the living green wall. Photo by Robbie Mehling.

Senior Madison Castleman, told writer Gabrielle Glass in January that the project taught her about the importance of accessibility.

“I designed a sensory wall piece that can also be folded down to a table. The sensory wall will have activities such as a sensory gel pad, a mini plinko game, and light up shapes. When the wall piece is folded down, it reveals a table with more sensory activities such as a kinetic sand pit, shoe laces to help with hand motor skills and learning to tie, and a magnetic ball maze.”
–Interior Design Senior Madison Castleman

In the third and final phase of the project, scheduled for fall 2020, Dr. Kanakri and her students will research the influence of their design decisions on the children.