Sensory Impairment and Cultural Inclusion

Project leader: Simon Hayhoe

The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide have a significant visual impairment and over 460 million people have a significant hearing impairment. In Western countries, older adults make up over 90% of the sensorially impaired community, and this number will increase dramatically as the older adult population grows.

Research at the CPNSS shows how older people with sensory impairments learn and get support in places like museums, galleries national parks and community groups – the knowledge and soft-skills gained through this learning, termed inclusive capital, is designed to overcome social and cultural exclusion.

This research addresses the exclusion of people with sensory impairments from a range of social and cultural contexts, and includes projects examining participatory methodologies and the use of technologies that provide customised captions, changing colours, multi-media features, voice over, to name but a few, through mobile technologies such as tablets and mobile phones.

This research engages with and develops specialist fields of learning theory, encompasses cross disciplinary fields (such as philosophy of mind, human-computer processes and the epistemology of vision science), and focuses on the core theme of inclusion in cultural institutions, from museums to community centres to community schools.

The research has three strands: Firstly, understanding how the senses work together with language to obviate the worst effects of sensory impairment. This research has been conducted in places such as the UK, US, UAE, Turkey, Russia, Spain and Austria; secondly, the substitution of assistive technologies, such as specialist zoom devices, with apps, other software and hardware, termed inclusive technologies, from low tech devices to iPads and mobile phones in the UK, Spain, Austria and Serbia; thirdly, support for people, particularly older people, with sensory impairments’ throughout life course in places such as museums, community centres, town centres and national parks in the UK, US, Russia, Mexico, Spain and Austria.

For example, Hayhoe’s research on technologies, teaching and learning has specialised in the use of mobile technologies and touchable / multi-sensory technologies in museums and galleries. The research methodology employed in these studies involves participatory research, grounded methodology and inclusive capital.

The key research findings from the recent body of research are: people with sensory impairments who gain impairments in later life often do not want to be identified as such and reference their earlier non-impaired cultures and identities, maintaining their previous learning habits; people with early-life sensory impairments are more likely to identify themselves according to their most significant impairment, many of whom have been taught to believe they are incapable of understanding much of their surroundings because of their impaired senses; and people with visual impairments with no visual perception from birth can understand what are traditionally thought to be solely visual concepts – such as colour and perspective – through combinations of alternative perceptual cues and language. The latter finding in particular challenges the belief of 300 years of philosophy of mind, that itself influenced the education of students with sensory impairments.