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Incorporating technology into arts processes with young people

Incorporating technology into arts processes opens up a world of creative possibility not just for documentation and dissemination but also for artistic production with young people. Helium Arts has championed technology use in health contexts for a decade, producing many films, animations, documentaries, installations and much more.

We like to strike a balance between screen-based activities and hands-on work for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sense of satisfaction that comes from making a physical artwork. Technology enables the user to go beyond physical limits, which in health settings can be particularly useful in both a real and an imaginative sense. There are also practical reasons why Helium has embraced technology: for example, a young person in an isolation unit in hospital will not have always access to ordinary art materials so as to prevent the risk of infection. A tablet or smart phone can be more easily disinfected before and after use, providing a safer way to engage in art processes.

Working with technology requires a little know-how, some preparation, consideration of hygiene factors and an understanding of responsible use. Particularly in the case of young people, it is important to be mindful of how online communication can result in interpersonal difficulty whether that is the risk of cyber-bullying or simply impairment of social skills IRL (In Real Life).

Responsible Technology Use

When working with young people, it is advisable to incorporate principles and best practice guidelines around technology usage into your Child Safeguarding Policy, including details regarding digital documentation and dissemination.

We recommend that professionals prepare an Internet Safety Statement also which will outline the responsibilities around access to online information and dealing with issues that may arise as a result. As parents/guardians, it is within your right to ask that these policies are in place before work with your child/ward begins. It is also wise to become familiar with the area yourself:

Collaborative book editing using the private Adobe Connect platform on Helium’s Online Creative Health Hub

Please note that different organisations have different rules with regard to use of personal devices for capturing images, video etc. for documentation or dissemination. Any use of recording devices must be consented to by participants and their parents/guardians beforehand in line with GDPR policy. All professionals should have a consent form ready for signing prior to commencement of work with minors and vulnerable parties. It is advisable for consent forms to facilitate time periods for re-negotiation of consent by participants. We also recommend that all devices which have identifying data related to participants are password protected and that data is encrypted. Seek professional advice if you need to know more about data protection and encryption.

Release forms are specifically focused on the rights to dissemination of media. Depending on the type of work you do with participants, you will need to consider how the outcomes will be copyrighted and how contributors will be acknowledged:

We advocate responsible use of media, especially when working with marginalised communities. For information and guidelines on this area, check out the Dóchas Code of Conduct: https://www.dochas.ie/images-and-messages

Healthy Technology Use

Professionals working with technology will need to draft a Health and Safety Policy that refers to best practice guidelines around physical wellbeing and technology use. For more detailed information with regard to health and safety for technology use in learning environments, see this advice sheet from PDST. For everyone else, there are some common sense suggestions that are worth considering outlined below.

The light emitting from screens can have a negative impact on the user’s eyesight, not to mention the issues involved in reading small type on handheld and other devices. Physical posture can be strained when using devices in an ad hoc way such as bending over a phone in public transport or lying awkwardly trying to accommodate a laptop screen in bed. With regard to mental health and wellbeing, much like flicking through multiple channels on TV, attention spans are also affected by the scroll-based inputs of many social media platforms and motion-based media that are becoming more and more fast-paced. This has knock-on effects for young people’s creativity in terms of their expectations around productivity. The more instant access to entertainment becomes, the less patient young people can be when practicing skills or pursing their own creative processes.

Animation editing on Helium’s Midlands Animation Project (2019)

When confronted with these issues, it’s advisable to make adjustments for maximum comfort including limiting screen use and devising analogue ways to elicit the same levels of productivity and/or entertainment. Some tips are listed below:

  • Create a workspace where the user can sit or stand with their back in the most upright position possible. Avoid situations that require stooping or slouching.
  • Ensure that a screen is positioned at head height and a keyboard at elbow height. Use whatever materials are available and hygienically safe to correct poor positions.
  • Limit screen use to 20-minute increments taking ‘vision breaks’ in between.
  • Read print on paper or with an appropriately lit screen (e.g. a Kindle) as much as possible
  • Encourage interpersonal communication IRL as much as possible (as opposed to online messaging)
  • Model healthy tech behaviour – if you can demonstrate how to stay off your phone and have a fun, productive time, young people are more likely to follow your example. Don’t check your phone during conversations or while working unless it is relevant to the task at hand.

You may notice that more and more hospital wards now provide monitors over beds so that individuals can choose their viewing preferences. Be aware that some monitors facilitate users to upload their own content for viewing from USB devices. Before using or giving permission to use one of these monitors, it is always worth checking that content on the participant’s USB is suitable for viewing as it may be visible to younger children on the ward. Likewise, if you are accessing your own USB, you should ensure that content is suitable for younger audiences. If you are unsure, contact a member of staff. If you upload content to a monitor, please remove it after use.

In general, it is advisable when working with children and young people to draw up a set of rules / Dos and Don’ts that will encourage them to recognise unhealthy usage and to correct it. This can be done as an activity with the participant, so they are empowered to co-create these rules. Encourage teenagers to ask questions and empower themselves with reliable information about online risks from trusted organisations such as SpunOut.ie (https://spunout.ie/life/category/online-safety).

Hygiene and Infection Control

No matter how well designed technology is, devices present an infection risk. They can spread bacteria through the accumulation of dirt or dust between their components or simply through contact with naturally occurring oils from the body that remain on surfaces such as touch sensitive screens. Follow these basic steps to avoid infection:

  • Limit access to devices by multiple users.
  • Advise users (including yourself) to wash hands and to use a sterilising hand gel before and after using devices.
  • Wipe down devices and related cables with sterilising wipes before and after use.
  • Where possible, use a protective, cleanable cover to keep dirt or dust from transferring between devices and users. We find waterproof ‘Otter Boxes’ are particularly good for phones and iPads.
  • Use a vacuum or, for sensitive items, a handheld air pump to remove dirt or dust particles.
  • Cover keyboards with wipe-clean, transparent protective sleeves.
  • If an item cracks or breaks, place tape over the area to prevent cutting/scratching risks. Replace the tape after each user. Replace the item as soon as possible.
  • Store devices and related cables in airtight containers such as jiffy bags and use them as little as possible in non-sterile settings.
  • Wash any cloth-based covers immediately after use.

Creative Technology Tools

When working on a budget, it is worth considering the technology tools you have to hand. Most participants will have access to a phone that can capture images, video and audio. Most phones come with editing tools including filters that can be used in many creative ways.

Helium Arts works with lots of different technology tools in health contexts. For tips on some of these processes, check out our Puppet Toolkit page.

There are many online resources for editing and disseminating media. Search online for tools that meet your own criteria and test out the tools using the operating systems and devices you will be working with before trying them out with young people.

Working on a budget: Smart phone and compatible tripod on Helium’s Two Suitcases community film project

Here is some software we have used recently that we like*:

  • By setting up a single Google Account is it is possible to access a range of tools at once. G-Suite provides word processing tools that are useful for creative writing and scripting. G- Suite also provides a drawing tool for basic graphic design and a slide creation tool which enables the export of images as vector or raster-based image files or PDFs. Google also owns YouTube so with the same account you can upload video content, edit it using the Video Manager and then share it publically or privately by using a password.
  • We have used Google Classroom on our online art programme for teenagers to connect and share their work between live sessions. As Google Classroom is linked to Gmail, it’s important that permission is sought from parents in advance and that content is moderated.
  • Krita is an excellent painting programme that is free to download and can be used for graphic design and image creation.
  • There are many applications to create animations that are also free to download. Currently, our favourites are Stop Motion Studio for Apple Mac and Stop Motion Movie Creator for Windows.
  • Bitmoji is a fun application that facilitates the creation of avatars that can be integrated with Snapchat.
  • We recommend Instructables for great DIY technology project ideas.

*Helium is not affiliated, associated, authorized or endorsed by any of these programmes. While we have found these tools useful, readers are advised to undertake their own due diligence before committing to any of these products. We are also conscious of the privacy concerns relating to Google’s data collection in particular. Consent is sought from parents in advance for collaborative projects using online tools and for the dissemination of material produced via online platforms.


When proposing activities that will incorporate technology, the following guidelines are recommended:

  • Test everything before using it to make sure it meets safety requirements and that all equipment is compatible and works correctly
  • Don’t forget to fully charge equipment before use and bring extra batteries for back up
  • Don’t forget to include SD cards or other content storage devices and make sure they are appropriately formatted and have enough memory for capturing content
  • If you anticipate going online, check that the internet is accessible or that your hotspot device works on location
  • Carry and store technology appropriately i.e. in padded, waterproof containers that are easily portable
  • Ensure that technology usage has a clear focus and is time limited
  • Establish a set of rules / guidelines / Dos and Dont’s with the participants regarding technology usage
  • Ensure that technology tasks are clearly communicated and build in ways to check in with the participant(s) to ensure they are staying on task
  • Keep use of personal devices to a minimum
  • Be ready to adapt the task or technology if usage is becoming problematic to the process or posing a risk to the participant
  • Back up all content before deleting the original files
  • Make sure that all recorded content is password protected
Field recording on Helium’s Home Sweet Home project

It is imperative that you understand any factors that will affect the user experience of technology and prepare to make accommodations. Below are some tips related to different access issues that we have come across. Be aware that some participants may be affected by multiple issues.

Working with participants with vision impairments

  • Ensure that all instructions can be clearly communicated verbally/via an audio device
  • Where possible, provide braille instructions for braille readers
  • Use screen reading software where applicable (after checking it is compatible)
  • Adjust screen-based content by using zoom functions and increasing contrast on screen

Working with participants with hearing impairments

  • Ensure that all instructions can be clearly communicated in written form
  • Where possible, provide sign language interpretation for sign language users
  • Speak slowly and clearly when conversing with lip readers
  • Use headphones adjusted for hearing levels
  • Adjust audio content by using volume functions and external speakers for enhanced sound

Working with participants with mobility impairments

  • Choose or adapt technology devices according to physical capacity e.g. place the device at a position that is accessible to the user, consider replacing a mouse with a joystick etc.
  • Adjust sensitivity settings for users with less vigorous or slower clicking ability when using mouse or touchscreen
  • Use a tripod for photography / film work

Working with participants with speech impairments

  • Use clip on microphones when recording speech or transmitting speech
  • Provide writing tools to communicate by text if necessary
  • Consider using text-to-speech software if appropriate
  • Where possible, provide sign language interpretation for sign language users