What is SUITCEYES about?
The overall objective of SUITCEYES is to improve the level of independence and participation of people with deafblindness and to enhance their communication, perception of the environment, knowledge acquisition and conduct of daily routines.
Deafblindness – otherwise known as a dual sensory loss – refers to a unique combination of vision and hearing loss of such severity that it is hard for the impaired senses to compensate for each other (Dammeyer, 2014). Deafblindness is often defined in two different subgroups – congenital deafblindness and acquired deafblindness – due to their different development conditions. People with congenital deafblindness are born deaf or blind or became deaf or blind early in life before the development of language, while acquired deafblindness is labelled as “post-lingual deafblindness”. Individuals with deafblindness often face challenges in fully participating in society, due to difficulties in communication. Furthermore, accessing information and moving around freely and safely is restricted. These limitations lead to a high risk of social isolation and exclusion for individuals with deafblindness.
What is our aim?
SUITCEYES aims at combining and developing cutting-edge technologies and ICT tools to develop a haptic intelligent personalized interface (“HIPI”) which is based on sensor technologies, image and signal processing, psychophysics, smart textiles, semantic reasoning and affective computing. The project aims at (i) enhancing the localization awareness and environmental perception of the user (ii) extending and improving users’ modes of communication via a haptic interface; promoting and facilitating learning, as well as capturing and extending users’ interest and engagement, (iii) incorporate gamification and mediated social interactions.
The project outcome is not limited to a technological solution. Extensive user studies are conducted to improve our understanding of the actual needs of people with deafblindness and to inform the project and design and development decisions.
The project also includes policy studies, in order to raise awareness and to facilitate informed policies and decision making.
We are linking the potential of the technology very clearly to the priorities of people with deafblindness. To discover more about user needs we have carried out 81 interviews with 79 people in 5 countries during the earlier stage of the project, asking them about their current situation, access to technology and priorities for the future. Interviewers included technology experts, allowing direct communication between users and designers, as well as interviewers experienced in qualitative research. In addition, we are carrying out co-design activities and workshops together with potential users, to help further guide the specifications of our prototype.
Garments as a communication interface?
One idea is that the garment, acting as a smart interface, will transfer information to the bearers through haptic signals, and can, for example, tell the bearers if someone is looking at them or where the ball they dropped is in the room. But it is also possible to combine different sensors in the smart textile. Each sensor can address different perceptive channels, which enlarges the communication space.
Although the SUITCEYES prototype will be developed specifically for users with deafblindness, the application area of the prototype is not limited to this group. A system that affords improved perception of the surrounding environment, and allows an alternative (haptic) mode of communication can scale to multiple other application areas. There are many circumstances where a user lacks full reliance on the visual and auditory senses such as firefighting in smoke-filled rooms, rescue missions in dark and noisy environments, sports training and more.
The project’s funding
SUITCEYES is a three-year long (2018-2020) Research and Innovation project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme, call “Information and Communication Technologies” under topic “ICT-23-2017: Interfaces for accessibility”, and grant agreement number 780814.