Dance mats with flashing lights were previously used to teach deaf and hard of hearing kids to dance, but sub-woofers, as used at Rochester School for Deaf Students in the US, are definitely a step into the future.
Sub-woofers are typically used to enhance music in a dancing environment, but in this case are placed face down on a floor that vibrates. This means the children feel the tempo of the music through their feet when dancing.
Auditory solutions provider, Oval Window Audio, developed its Multisensory Sound Laboratory as a way for deaf and hard of hearing children to learn to dance. The black carpet finish of the sub-woofers mean they easily fit into carpet and essentially convert a room into one big sub-woofer.
Subwoofer use is not limited to dance however. It may be surprising to learn that many computer games are not accessible to deaf players. Over the years the use of subtitles has also become the exception, not the rule.
Music can signal the approach of an enemy. What if this music isn’t heard?
The use of bass music, which would be felt through a subwoofer, might solve a lot of these issues. One deaf gamer recently tested out the theory.
In a review of the game “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, she says, “I was able to swap the danger music with an MP3 of low rumbling that I can feel through a subwoofer in my feet”.
Another issue she found was that while the game had sub-titles, she found it hard to tell which character was speaking as they were all in the same colour. She suggests that game creators use different colour text for each character. She also says, “I particularly liked the way the symbols elevate from the potion book so you can see what actions need to be performed.”
Soho artist Sim Sun Kim who has been deaf since infancy uses sub-woofers to create works of art. She says her approach to art to some extent reflects her relationship with sound. When creating art, she places paint or brushes on a piece of paper on top of a sub-woofer. As she turns on the sub-woofer the vibrations make the paint move and create a unique work of art.
Kim’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including New York and Germany.
Game reviews & advice on making games accessible to deaf players
Questions and Answers Interview With Sim Sun Kim
(compiled by Miriam Walsh)