As a future special education teacher, I am very interested in haptics. “Haptics applications use specialized hardware to provide sensory feedback that simulates physical properties and forces” (ECause Learning Initiative). Haptics uses both touch (tactile) and motion (kinesthetic) to simulate real physical properties—such as weight, momentum, friction, texture, or resistance. It communicates those properties through interfaces, such as a glove with sensors, that let users “feel” what is happening on the screen. For example, you could build a chair and “feel” the material chosen, the friction when you sit down and the height in proportion to the body.
Children learn in many ways. Some children are stronger visual learners. Some are tactile learners. Haptics could enhance the practice of tactile learning. In the area of special education, this can go beyond reading and writing. For many students with disabilities, learning is about finding ways to communicate when they have no voice, finding ways to regulate their bodies and emotions and finding ways to move and orient their bodies within space. In the article “7 Things About Haptics”, it says research indicates that a considerable portion of people are kinesthetic or tactile learners. They understand better and remember more when education involves movement and touch. Education has traditionally focused on visual (reading) and auditory (hearing) learning. Haptics allows for improved learning for students who learn differently.
There are several ways haptics could be of help to students with special needs. I wanted to talk about two that really stood out to me. The first was the “Hug Shirt” mentioned in the article by Cuartielles, Göransson, Olsson, and Stenslie. This is a haptic communication device in the form of a normal looking shirt. The shirt transmits ‘hugs’ to another, similar shirt via a Bluetooth and Java enabled telephone device. A feeling resembling a hug is produced by vibrotactile stimulation. I thought about all the children I work with that have sensory needs. I thought about children that need extra sensory input and those that have trouble communicating. Virtual hugs. Vibrotactile stimulation for an autistic child. It boggled my mind a bit.
The second way I think haptics could be of benefit for students with special needs is as an easier way to access the computer. Usually, using a computer relies on visual (reading) and auditory (hearing) skills. In many of my students, this is difficult. They are not as proficient as their peers in reading. Some are unable to read at all. Therefore, working a keyboard is difficult. Many have hearing impairments or auditory processing difficulties. For many, their strongest sense is tactile. They learn by physically experiencing something. That is what haptics could give them. A tactile, physical learning experience.