Signes de Sens

A new reading experience for visually impaired children

Our 2017 moonshot project? To reinvent visually impaired children’s reading experience. A beautiful project, lead with French associations Signes de Sens and Les Doigts Qui Rêvent.
2associative partners
11children participated
5exploratory and test workshops

Where we started

Innovations favoring access to knowledge and culture are certainly flourishing – and receiving press coverage all around the world. Yet when it comes to using digital to help visually impaired children, solutions are scarce…  

So, in 2017 we aimed for the moon: we wanted to design tomorrow’s book for visually impaired children.

Because when you think about it (and we did!) what digital brings the seeing public can be used to create a wonderful new experience for the visually impaired: by reshaping the interaction between child and tutor; by giving the child an active role in the reading experience, in which he can engage through gaming mechanisms; by liberating the child of many of his physical constraints and finally giving him more autonomy; by revealing new unexplored environments through multi-sensory experiences…

The opportunities are virtually infinite!  

Where we came in

We were lucky to work with two French associations whose awareness, understanding and experience with disabilities brought us the user-perspective we needed. Founded in 1993, Les Doigts Qui Rêvent is a publishing house which specializes in publishing tactile books for visually impaired children. As for Signes de Sens, the association was founded in 2003 to design innovative pedagogical solutions for everybody, based on the specific needs of people with disabilities.

Signes de Sens and Les Doigts Qui Rêvent shared our conviction that digital can (and should) be used to enrich these children’s reading experience and that designing specifically for the disabled can result in an innovative experience for all - but we were unsure where to start. With so many exciting possibilities in mind, we pursued our common goal by making these opportunities a reality – creating a prototype accessible to all.

We didn’t start from scratch, and were lucky to work with a product already developed by Les Doigts Qui Rêvent and which ended up being a huge asset: the wonderful Chasse à L’Ours book is a physical book printed in Braille which uses fabric and various materials to engage the child in a tactile reading experience.

Our idea was to capitalize on this wonderful object and take it even further. How? By “augmenting” it with a digital apparatus which would allow us to:

  • Enrich the reading experience even more, by adding to the sense of touch.
  • Broaden Les Doigts qui Rêvent’s horizons by allowing them to touch a larger audience: minor visual impairment cases but also other specific publics (deaf, autistic or dyslexic children) and even the general public following an “inclusive design” approach.
  • Facilitate the book’s distribution by optimizing production costs and adaptation.  
I love how the book makes noises, it makes me want to read more!
Silhouane
9 years old

What we did

In any design project, building the best experience for the user requires a fine understanding of his realities first. This case was no different and it was vital that we immerse ourselves in the children’s day-to-day. We were able to do so by taking part in observation workshops animated by Les Doigts qui Rêvent at the Montéclair Institute in Angers, which supports the visually impaired. Through these encounters we identified 3 major insights which guided us in the prototype’s creation:

  • resilience and ease-of-use are essential qualities for objects destined to these young children;
  • autonomy is a great source of joy for these children who are constantly helped on account of their handicap;
  • the children are unanimously excited by sound interactions (tested on iPad applications)

Based on these important realizations we were able to define the children’s ideal experience and considered various technical possibilities to make it happen.

And so we created our final prototype: a physical book augmented with sound interactions and an iPad application allowing the helper to configure the text depending on the user (visually impaired, deaf, autistic or dyslexic).

It’s like watching a DVD!
Nicolas
7 years old

What happened

The prototype was tested amongst the children we had initially met in Angers – with great success! The book had become a fully multi-sensory object that unites touch and sound to create an extraordinary experience in which the child is king: he can for instance choose to “dive” into a pond (and activate the related sound), simply swim in it by caressing the “water” material gently or move straight on to the next page and choose to play with the forest-like page. This new immersive and multi-sensory experience was greeted with great enthusiasm by the children who felt able to discover environments and concepts that are generally inaccessible to them in a fun and autonomous way!  

We also thought of solutions for Signes de Sens and Les Doigts Qui Rêvent to be able to produce such a product on a larger scale – broadening their reach and allowing more children to benefit from it.

Can I take it home with me?
Nino
3 years old

Thoughts on the project

Juliette FilippiProject Analyst

What did you learn from this project?

Not only did this project give my work a real sense of purpose, I really understood the value that we could create for all, by taking a disabled public’s needs as a starting point. That is something I hadn’t fully realized before. What I mean is that this new object we designed enabled us to create a new reading experience that answers several strong constraints suffered by visually impaired children: for instance we took into account the necessity to play with other senses (not simply vision) to bring the children to imagine the story, we also worked with the fact that some sensations could not be represented as they are less accessible to these children. Ultimately these immersive and interactive aspects of this new reading experience appealed not only to the visually impaired children we worked with but to their brothers and sisters as well - for once, they were the ones who envied their sibling!

How is the approach different on a subject like this one?

Generally speaking on our more “traditional” innovation projects, we recommend creating prototypes to test the appeal, the logic and functionalities of a service before investing heavily in its development. In this case, we did the same: our prototype allowed us to simulate at a low cost our target experience in the most realistic and efficient way possible. But the technical solution we used was not designed with a large scale production process in mind. For us to go further in our thought-process, we also had to find a technical solution which would address the question of a large-scale cost-efficient production. In this kind of project, more than in any other, frugality is a key concept. And that is a very interesting principle to keep in mind to facilitate innovation.

What were the project’s key moments for you?

Definitely the user tests with the children: seeing their surprise when they hear the first splashes of water and their laughs for the next 50 splashes!

Questions are just as important as answersContact