Help Blind People Combat the Tendency to Rock Back and Forth

For years, teachers of blind students have been talking about teaching strategies for students who sway, spin, or rock back and forth in their chairs. In just a few months, we’ll be able to say that there’s an app for that, too.

Developed by Tyler K. Thompson—an assistive technology teacher in New Mexico—uses an iPhone’s gyroscope to alert students when they rock back and forth.

“I had a student come to the center whose case was pretty severe,” Thompson said at the 13th annual Contemporary Issues In Rehabilitation and Education for the Blind conference. “When he’d be rocking back and forth, he’d actually be moving the chair. ‘Do you hear that noise?’ I’d ask. ‘What noise?’ he’d say. ‘Uh, do you hear the chair squeak? That’s you!'”

Instructors at the center tried the techniques teachers have been using for years: tapping the student on the shoulder, telling him to stop rocking, and talking about why the behavior was so unbecoming of him from a professional point of view. No luck.

“So, the executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind came to ask me and asked if we could use the iPhone to help with this,” Thompson said. “So, I gave it a try.”

With the iPhone in your pants pocket, the app works by vibrating when you are doing anything similar to rocking. (On a geeky note, one of Thompson’s first tasks was to analyze what a rocking motion looked like by recording the behavior in three-dimensional data, and “everyone’s rock looks different,” he said.)

After telling the student that his job was to make the phone stop vibrating, the instructor from Alamogordo, New Mexico discovered that his student stopped rocking back and forth…at least temporarily.

“Then we had a longer period, where I was conducting a seminar and I gave him the phone,” he said. “I told him to do the same thing over again. I asked him at the end of the hour-long seminar, how it went. He said, ‘Well, your phone was vibrating the whole time.’ However, I’ve had success with it already.”

The app isn’t intended to be something you’d have running all the time. Thompson’s thought is that if, for example, people tell you that you rock in your chair and you want to be sure that you don’t do that during a job interview, you could have the app running for a short period of time.

Thompson invites anyone interested in beta-testing the app to contact him at tyler.thompson2@state.nm.us.

Future versions of the app may be able to use a watch running iOS, rumored to be in production by Apple, to record specific behaviors. The app could help with things like restless leg syndrome, eye poking, wrist flapping, bouncing, hand positioning while reading braille, or even cane technique.

“My hope is that it’s going to be a very useful tool to combat some of these things that aren’t just for the blind community…but for everybody,” Thompson said.

What do you think about the idea of iFidget? What other activities would you like an app to target so as to help your students? Post below in the comments!

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Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

One thought on “Help Blind People Combat the Tendency to Rock Back and Forth

  1. Dear Corbb, please keep me informed of your progress with the app for reducing and eliminating Rocking behaviors and eye poking by blind children.
    Judy Koch Smith, Certified O&M Specialist at the WA State School for the Blind

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