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A multi-sensory mat that empowers children with low-vision and blindness to play informal sports

Oct- Dec 2022
Harvard, Cambridge, USA

Team of 3
Role - User Research | Industrial Design | Electronics

Design for accessibility | Sports product design | Diagnostics

Approximately 70% of children who are blind and visually impaired in the U.S. do not participate in even a limited physical education curriculum.

Visual impairment can affect the equilibrium of proprioceptive systems, resulting in problems with balance, posture, coordination, rotation, and muscle strength.

What does scientific research say?

Maintaining balance is heavily compromised by the lack of a visual system.

Physical activity promotes strength and balance for individuals who are visually impaired.

Rapidly changing direction, stopping, landing, and jumping lead to excellent balancing properties.

What do users and experts say?

We conducted interviews with students and adults with low vision and blindness, PE teachers from blind schools, ophthalmologists, and physical therapists.

Here's what they had to say-

Primary and Elementary students

Sri Rakum School for the Blind Bangalore

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“We love to play blind cricket and catch with the beeping ball.”

“We prefer auditory feedback over tactile.”

Campbell Rutherford

Harvard University undergraduate student, Blind


“I got hit with a ball once in second grade, and they made me sit out of P.E. class.”

“I’m comfortable getting around familiar places, like home and my grandparents’ home.”

Shravya Kanithi

Senior Business Executive

Wells Fargo


“I was not allowed to play in P.E. class, but I was allowed to play at home. I used to play tag, holding hands with my sighted friend”

“I’m comfortable in familiar spaces I know.”

Perkins P.E. Teachers

Perkins School for the Blind


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“We use equipment and tactile maps in almost every class.“

“We focus on lifelong physical learning.“

Dr. Leyla Karim


Boston Children’s Hospital


"A lot of parents are afraid to let their children play in P.E. class."

"I tell my patients to participate in physical activities."

Sandy Lacey

Director of Innovation

Perkins School for the Blind


"Design inclusively for children with visual impairment and their sighted friends."

Dave Perry

Harvard MOVE Lab Director


"Kids with visual impairment will feel less left out if they can play with everyone."

Stakeholder map

Based on our primary research insights, we created a stakeholder map. Our primary users are children with low vision and blindness, secondary users are sighted children and our tertiary stakeholders include parents, teachers, and doctors, who are concerned about the well-being of children.

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Stakeholder Needs
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wants to play with friends independently
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wants their children to play freely and safely
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PE Teacher
wants students to be active and play safely
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is interested in the child's mobility progress
Design Process
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We followed an iterative design cycle of researching, hypothesizing, prototyping, and testing. We received user feedback at every step of the process.

We played different games like tag, hopscotch, twister, catch, freeze tag, seven steps, red light-green light and macro polo by blindfolding ourselves to understand the challenges. 

We decided to go ahead with hopscotch, DDR and twister because

  • These games are difficult to play since they rely on visual feedback

  • User research showed that children already had a way to play tag and catch - for example, they played tag with a sighted buddy and catch with a beeping ball

  • These games help improve the balance of children with visual impairment

  • They are also safe to play within a constrained space

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