Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of listening to and working with both people with deafblindness and product manufacturers. Optimal accessibility means an easier time for everyone, and is more cost effective to the manufacturer to get it right from the outset. However, some technologies can only be fully accessible via customisation, after all everyone has different preferences and needs.
On Friday 13 February, Helen (a nurse, general technology enthusiast and person with dual sensory impairment) and I met with Tom Carter, the creator of a new technology that may provide great opportunities in the years to come. It allows you to feel that something is touching your skin yet visibly there is nothing there. Ultrahaptics a board mounted with ultrasound sensors, combined with a motion sensing camera, all controlled by a computer to provide “tactile feedback for gesture control”. The demonstration offered 3 options:
- By holding out a hand above the board we felt the sensation of bubbles popping on the underside of our hand, yet visibly there was nothing to see.
- By moving our hand forward and over the board we felt the sensation of going through a barrier, yet visibly again there was nothing.
- This time on putting our hand above the board you received the sensation of a point, circling the palm of your hand which moved with you as you changed the position of your hand. Once “locked on” you could then control a dial by different hand or finger gestures.
At this stage the technology is incredibly flexible, the distance from the source, sensitivity and movements can all be adjusted. Ultrahaptics is currently working with a small number of billion dollar companies to investigate how this type of technology can be incorporated and benefit products including those for white goods, consumer electrics, computing, gaming, health and automotive.
What impressed me as much as the technology was that Ultrahaptics are keen to know how they can continue to make their technology accessible for those with sensory impairments and disability especially once in situ in product.
There were some great discussions about how it could be used in simple ways such as helping a young child with deafblindness learn about touch and encourage movement by popping bubbles with their hand, providing environmental information and special awareness to people by mounting the barrier style sensation in doorways or where one area changes to another, or how perhaps the dial and adjustment might be useful for household operations like changing the temperature.
Helen adds: “I am deaf and I am a nurse working in community health so I straddle personal and professional communication access needs. With the advances of technology over the years the excitement of what is possible to ensure true inclusive communication access is endless.
“This has led to my becoming increasingly passionate and vigilant in what is happening out there. Scanning social media such as twitter has provided real time global awareness to what is happening in technological advances. It was such a link on Twitter that I caught sight of what Ultrahaptics is developing and immediately thought of how this was worth investigating further as a means of communicating in a different way for any diverse sensory spectrums. How could it be incorporated to use of deaf/blind tactile language. With that in mind I shared with Sense and brought us all together for this insightful visit to Bristol. The possibilities remain endless with where to go from here.”
Donna Corrigan is Technology Co-ordinator at Sense