Exercise Accessibility for People with Blindness and Visual Impairments: Assessing the Potential of Tongue Interfaces
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Regularly participating in sport and exercise is extremely good for health and well-being. However, for people with blindness and visual impairments, access to exercise is restricted compared to others. One promising method for increasing access to exercise is the applied use of novel technological interventions. Specifically, the field of sensory substitution may be able to provide suitable visual assistance for sport and exercise, although sensory substitution devices have not yet been explored for this purpose. The BrainPort is a vision-into-tactile sensory substitution device that converts visual information into electrotactile stimulation on the surface of the tongue and is a popular device in substitution research. Among sensory substitution devices, the BrainPort is perhaps a compelling choice as a visual aid for exercise as it has a good spatial and temporal resolution, and is a stand-alone unit, with a camera mounted on the forehead and integrated processing unit at the back. Yet surprisingly little is known about the tactile capabilities of the tongue and whether people can successfully interpret the kinds of information required for performing sport and exercise through it. This thesis uses psychophysical methods to explore the potential of tongue interfaces, such as the BrainPort, for the purpose of exercise, and additionally, probes aspects of exercise accessibility for people with visual impairments. It finds that tongue interfaces do have a potential for improving access to exercise for people with visual impairments if careful considerations are made. Primarily, the tongue has a limited ability to orientate attention on its surface, therefore, it is easy to overload with tactile information. Furthermore, the findings show that people with visual impairments are willing and able to adopt new technology to aid them in exercise habits and routines. Finally, based on these findings, the thesis proposes the development of a novel artificially intelligent sensory substitution software, designed to aid navigation in rock climbers with visual impairments by directing spatial attention to climbing hold locations, via a tongue interface.
Date of Award22 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichael Proulx (Supervisor) & Karin Petrini (Supervisor)

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