• Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

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Navigating through deaf blindness in a post-pandemic world

Navigating through deaf blindness in a post-pandemic world
  • Scottish research into the experiences of deaf and blind people during the coronavirus pandemic reveals a deprivation in the sense of touch.
  • The results of the ‘Touch Post-COVID-19’ project led by the University of Glasgow informs the development of new technology which supports human interaction.
  • The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) within UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19. 

Humans maintain large and complex social networks that are essential for not only our success as a species, but for our mental health and overall happiness. So, when the pandemic struck, an easily overlooked but dangerous aspect of social isolation in our newfound daily lives involved the loss of everyday physical touch.

Over the past two years, up and down the UK, thousands of research and innovation projects have been publicly funded to tackle the pandemic. The University of Glasgow launched an 18-month project to investigate the impact of touch deprivation on the deafblind community during the pandemic. Named the ‘Touch Post-COVID-19’ project, it aimed to develop strategies and policies for people who rely on their sense of touch to discover the world around them.

The study collected audio-visual data such as interviews and audio diaries from participants to understand their experiences of space, memory, and social interactions. This understanding helped create a tool for audio and visually impaired people to better navigate their surroundings in the post-pandemic world. The results will be used by researchers to develop new technologies to help facilitate safe and reliable communication and interaction with surroundings.

The work by the team at the University of Glasgow forms part of a £550 million COVID-19 rapid investment programme by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the largest public funder of research and development in the UK. The diversity of UKRI-funded projects is vast – from the world’s first COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to projects that help us understand and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our economy, environment, education, arts sector and mental health. This funding builds on decades of public investment and research expertise which have provided the backbone to our national COVID-19 response.

Dr Azadeh Emadi, lecturer in Film and Television at The University pf Glasgow, who was part of the project comments: “The project aims to understand and reveal the relevance of deafblind experiences of touch and touch deprivation during COVID-19 to a larger general population. In collaboration with deafblind community, we gathered audio-visual data, in the form of audio diaries and interviews, about their experiences. From gathered data, we have been developing creative works, a policy brief, and a prototype device that enhances situational awareness through haptics technology informed by radar sensors. Our research data shows that COVID-19 has increased the intimacy and reliance on the relationship with close partners and guid communicators, but endangered broader access to social and cultural life. To rethink touch and address the increasing isolation of deafblind individuals require a new interdisciplinary framework, one that is based on mutual communication and inclusion of the community.”