Our motivation stems from the lack of understanding of how the brain of sensory impaired individual can effectively acquire spatial information from residual sensory channels. We focus on visual and hearing impairment. European countries have divergent ways of rehabilitating visual loss, none of them pushing yet towards technologies enabling independence and self-rehabilitation. Tactile maps are bulky, expensive, not tailored to user needs. Social exclusion derives from the consequent lack of communication and mobility. Expensive hearing aids cannot restore the brain skill of discriminating speech in noise and no solution still exists. These issues reduce socialization capabilities of both young and elderly persons.
We have shown that the sense of touch is effective in building mental maps from virtual layouts. We built and tested programmable tactile devices as low-cost PC peripherals to learn mathematics in absence of vision (“Tactile Mouse” project) or as programmable maps to access graphics through the web (“BlindPAD” project). Then, we improved the performance of hearing aids with a microphone array technology that help hearing impaired persons to understand speech in crowded environments (“Glassense” project). Our assistive aids can become complementary tools for rehabilitation practices and for everyday use, increasing social inclusion of blind, visually and hearing impaired people.
We, as researchers, have developed strong links with societal actors: rehabilitation practitioners, teachers, families, end users. Our prototypes are monitored by stakeholders and policy makers; our serious games were conceived with school educators and rehabilitation practitioners; our proposed experimental protocols were shared between partners on a cloud-based platform; our results were disseminated to common citizens in exhibitions centered on disability; our technologies are shared and developed with those industrial partners which can exploit them in their product portfolio.
Researchers and rehabilitation practitioners frequently stand from different viewpoints: within our projects researchers have gained -from the clinic- knowledge which is written in no book.
Rehabilitation practice contains an enourmous amount of non-structured, but genuine, information that can really push research to many steps forward.
After collaborating with researchers, practitioners gained a peculiar way of observing disabled persons, by considering that well-establish rehabilitation methods can always be improved if one takes the time to "experiment".
Talking with end users and listen to what they would love to have, but they cannot have yet despite existing technologies, is frequently better than having novel ideas