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The Effect of Programmable Tactile Displays on Spatial Learning Skills in Children and Adolescents of Different Visual Disability

Fabrizio Leo, Elena Cocchi, Luca Brayda


Vision loss has severe impacts on physical, social and emotional well-being. The education of blind children poses issues as many scholar disciplines (e.g., geometry, mathematics) are normally taught by heavily relying on vision. Touch-based assistive technologies are potential tools to provide graphical contents to blind users, improving learning possibilities and social inclusion. Raised-lines drawings are still the golden standard, but stimuli cannot be reconfigured or adapted and the blind person constantly requires assistance. Although much research concerns technological development, little work concerned the assessment of programmable tactile graphics, in educative and rehabilitative contexts. Here we designed, on programmable tactile displays, tests aimed at assessing spatial memory skills and shapes recognition abilities. Tests involved a group of blind and a group of low vision children and adolescents in a four-week longitudinal schedule. After establishing subject-specific difficulty levels, we observed a significant enhancement of performance across sessions and for both groups. Learning effects were comparable to raised paper control tests: however, our setup required minimal external assistance. Overall, our results demonstrate that programmable maps are an effective way to display graphical contents in educative/rehabilitative contexts. They can be at least as effective as traditional paper tests yet providing superior flexibility and versatility.