Give meaning to sensations

(Above: an original HaptiComm prototype, which Professor Mounia Ziat will modify to fit a child-sized hand. Photo courtesy of Vincent Hayward.)

Of all our senses, touch is perhaps the most underrated. And yet, it is arguably the most important. It is the first sense that we develop, while we are still in our mothers’ wombs, and the last to suffer the ravages of time, far beyond the need for bifocals and hearing aids. It’s also the only sense that can literally connect us to each other, binding us both physically and emotionally through handshakes and hugs, kisses and hugs.

Professor Ziat

These distinctions have appeared a long time ago Mounia Ziat, who has devoted 20 years of his professional life to “giving meaning to sensations”. As an expert in haptic or tactile technology, the Associate Professor of Information Design and Business Communication (IDCC) focuses on perceptual learning and human-machine interaction. In July, she received a computer research grant (CS-ER) of $ 71,500 from Google to support her latest research: the replication of a machine-mediated tactile communication device for young members of the community. deafblind.

“Deafblind students are among the most vulnerable children in the world and the least likely to receive an education,” says Ziat, who primarily teaches courses in the Master of Science in Human Factors in Information Design program. (HFID) from Bentley. This is because, as visually and hard of hearing individuals, they depend almost exclusively on physical contact with other humans for communication.

Most deafblind people use the tactile signature. The technique, sometimes referred to as ‘finger spelling’, was developed by author and deafblind activist Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and requires an interpreter to ‘draw’ on the palm of the hand. deafblind person. Using shapes, movements and pressure variations, the performer can convey specific letters, numbers and symbols.

But as Ziat points out, many deafblind students do not have physical access to a personal interpreter or the financial means to pay for one. Even in resource-rich areas, connecting students to the services they need can be a challenge, she says, because “some state laws and regulations make it difficult for deafblind people to identify as having more. of a handicap ”. So while the National Center on Deaf-blindness estimates that there are 10,600 deafblind children in the United States, “the true number is probably much higher.”

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