LEARNING TO COPE WITH STREET DANGERS: AN INTERACTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR THE INTELLECTUALLY IMPAIRED

L. Freina1, M. Busi2, A. Canessa3, I. Caponetto3, M. Ott3

1Softjam S.p.A. (ITALY)
2ETT S.p.A. (ITALY)
3Institute for Educational Technology, National Research Council (CNR) (ITALY)
Down syndrome is the world’s most common chromosomal disorder and cause of intellectual disability. Cognitive development is usually delayed and learning difficulties persist throughout life.

Typically, individuals with Down syndrome tend to learn more slowly, so learning requires a longer time. They also have difficulty in learning transfer (generalization), the ability to apply old knowledge or skills in a different situation or environment, they seem to forget learned skills from one day to the next, as previous learning is often not transferred to future experiences. This is a problem in every learning context, including mobility.
One way to support learning is to provide them a multisensory learning experience, using as many input channels as possible and involving repetition with expansion and reinforcement of previously learned skills. Furthermore, the approaches that are more concrete and similar to the real life world are often those that give better results.

As far as mobility issues are concerned, there is a problem related to the physical dangers that moving freely in the road implies. People with the Down syndrome need a long training period that has necessarily to be carried out with the constant presence of an educator, usually starting from a first training in a simulated environment and moving into the real streets in a second moment.

The simulated environment traditionally used guarantees safety but lacks in similarity to the real world.
The paper deals with the development of a system that tries to address this problem by providing a safe “real life” like environment in which the user can train to move safely in the road. This is reached through the immersion in a virtual environment through a multidisplay setup, a close reproduction of the street noises and a natural computer interaction based on gestures and body movements recognition.

Sight and hearing stimulations along with the free movements allow a total immersion of the end user, who is emotionally involved and therefore learns how to best react to frightening or emotionally stressing situations.

The foreseen advantages are that this innovative approach will reduce significantly the time needed to complete the “on the street” training and the risk of accidents. The system is still under development and will be tested on a significant sample of the target population.