MODEL FOR TACTILE EXPLORATION OF OBJECTS
IN SMALL SPACE BY YOUNG BLIND STUDENTS
Dr. Mira Tzvetkova - Arsova
lecturer in Education of Visually Impaired,
Department of Special Education,
University of Sofia “St.Kliment Ohridsky”
Nearly 80% of the information about the world is gained through vision. Sighted people use their visual capacity in many activities, among them: to get known about the form, size, orientation or movements of all objects around them. Obviously when vision is absent there is a crucial need for development and stimulation of all other senses and mostly the senses of hearing and touch.
For centuries scientists show a special interest towards stimulation of the tactile sense. Specialists and researchers came to the conclusion that the human hand capable of methodical handling and manipulation, is skilled and efficient in information gathering (Tubiana, 1984). The hand in blind is recognized as the main source for knowledge and experience about the world.
The issue of development of tactile skills is extremely important due to time and age. It is agreed in the special literature that there are specific ages when the tactile development is vast and intensive. These are the so called “sensitive periods”. One of them from a tactile point of view is the preschool and early school age. Besides, the way blind children use their hands at this age is of great importance, as is of crucial value the use of both hands. Troublesome is the statistical data which show that around 90% of the newly
admitted students into special schools for blind in Bulgaria are fully unable to demonstrate any skills in tactile exploration (Radoulov, 1979). As the tactile development in the blind is in correlation with the whole cognitive development, this problem is not to be taken for granted. Many authors (Tubiana, 1984; Rogow, 1987, 1988; Mommers, 1975 etc.) found significant correlation between object manipulation and language, intelligence and reading achievements.
Most of the studies dedicated to object manipulation and exploration (Swallow, 1973; Swallow & Poulsen, 1972; Tobin, 1972 etc.) concluded that the main difficulties came from the late training of the blind in tactile discrimination and recognition and from the absence of a model or strategy for an efficient, effective and socially appropriate way for tactile exploration of objects. My investigations in the special literature found too little research in this field. Some of the significant studies found, were the following ones:
A research carried by Simpkins (1979) compared groups of blind children with no school experience and with an year long of schooling. The results showed that the younger students did not explore much of the form and contours of objects. They were mostly squeezing the items in one of the hands. The older students were often carrying the object in the palm of the hand while with the other were tracing the contours and form.
Fraiberg (1968, 1971) stated that it was of great importance to teach
blind children how to obtain rich tactile knowledge. The author agreed that if we could “feed” the fingers with all needed tactile input this would be half of our task to teach the blind to explore the objects (p. 390).
Many of the researches of Rogow (1987, 1988) treated the problem of showing the blind students how to use and move their hands before expecting them to do it on their own, effectively and consciously. For that reason the author suggested that the tactile exploration have to be reckoned as an important factor which must be taken into account when assessing blind students and has to be put a special focus on when designing the school programs of students with severe visual problems (p. 61).
Solntseva (1967) considered that the preschool age was the one when to start with teaching the blind child to use his hands for tactile exploration of objects. She also insisted to make the child aware of the systematical way of exploration following certain steps (p. 30). Only by this means the child would be able to get knowledge of the things and world.
Chapman & Stone (1988) concluded that the way blind students in early school levels investigated tactually objects was of significant value. They
suggested the children to be taught in different strategies as for example scanning with the palm, manipulating with the fingers and the thumb (p.151).
The issue was studied by Best (1992), whose conclusions were directed
mostly to the consecutive nature of the tactile skills. According to him the blind child had to move his hands from one part of the object to another, moving back to establish the relation of all parts and then to imagine how they were put together (pps. 19 - 21).
Radoulov (1980) was more precise in describing the tactile technique for exploration of objects and its practical fulfillment. The author suggested that the student should start from the whole of the object moving slowly to the parts. The student was supposed to use all fingers of both hands (when possible). By this means the contours were traced first and then the details were paid attention to (p. 30). The author recommended when teaching the students to explore tactually an object lots of items to be used, among them toys, household objects etc.
Rowland (1985) dealing with the sensory horizons of the blind described the tactile procedure of exploring a sculpture like this: “At on moment the fingers are seen to be examined a particular part of the work. At another the hands are seen to be moving to and from as the size and overall structure is gained. These two procedures or approaches - fragmentation and construction, analysis and synthesis - alternate constantly, and upon their effective integration depends the blind person’s conception of the object…” (p. 54). And more: “…The hands will follow a prescribed course, circular or sequential, moving from point to point in an orderly fashion” (p. 54).
Nielsen (1996) wrote a special article dedicated to the approach of guiding the hands of the blind and the risk of disturbing the development of a strategy for tactile orientation. The author shared her view that the “entire development is disturbed or interrupted whenever anybody guides the child’s hands without his permission. Whenever a sighted person guides or leads the hands of the child, it will be the sighted person’s strategy for tactile search that will be used” (p. 29-30). And more: “If the child has started to explore an object and the adult sees that the child’s hands are moving in a “wrong” direction … or if the adult sees that the child omits exploring a certain part of
the object… the adult should refrain from taking the child’s hands and trying to show him where he should touch or how he should search it” (p. 30). Nielsen concluded that: “The only one strategy for tactile search which is of value for
the child who is visually impaired is his own” (p. 31).
The issue was also studied by Vurpillot (1976), Berla (1974), Greer (1978), Mavlov (1981) and others.
On the basis of all studies and research in special literature concerning tactile exploration of objects by blind on one hand, and having in mind some own previous investigations on this topic (Tzvetkova, 1989, 1993, 1995) on the other, there can be a conclusion made that the tactile exploration of objects follows a certain model or mechanism. A four phase or four level model was developed. The phases/levels are as follows:
1. Phase of searching for the object on the tabletop until it is reached. 2. Phase of making first tactile contact with the object.
3. Phase of detailed exploration of the object, its recognition or building a pre concept of it in case the object is unknown.
4. Phase of making conclusions and picturing the tactile information.
1. The first phase includes cases when the object is not put directly into the hands of the student but is on the tabletop within the reach of the two hands. There are two techniques recommended for this phase which are the same as the techniques for searching of lost or dropped object used in Orientation and Mobility. They are:
; searching for the object with circle movements,
; searching for the object with horizontal movements left and right.
Besides these techniques it can be expected that students may use chaotic movements with one or two hands on the tabletop.
2. The phase of making the first tactile contact was studied by the author in 1989. In this study as a starting point were used the five main techniques described by Davidson in 1972. They are:
a/ “grip” - the hand assumes a claw-like posture encircling the object. b/ “pinch” - near to the grip except that the posture is limited to the index and middle fingers.
c/ “top sweep” - the object is scanned in a sweeping motion with only the index finger extended.
d/ “span” - fingers are spanned across the object.
e/ “trace” - objects are traced with the back of the index finger fingernail.
Bonfanti (1979) found out that blind students used mostly the “grip”,
which although “atypical and possibly handicapping to social interaction” (p. 8), was especially effective. My own previous findings (1989) showed that young blind students preferred the “span” style. Another technique was
demonstrated by the students which was called “span with one hand only”.
3. The phase of detailed tactile exploration includes tracing first the contours and moving to the various details or parts of the object . It requires participation of all fingers of both hands.
4. The final phase means mental constructing of all tactile impressions, making conclusions or comparisons of the object with other well known items. It is important to be checked if the student really goes through this phase by making him give verbal description of the object or to express his observations.
The subjects were 60 blind students or students with light perception only, attending the two special schools for visually impaired in Bulgaria in the period of time 1992 - 1997. The subjects were the full population of blind and PL students in the tested age for this period. There were 32 males and 28
females aged 5.4 to 11. They attended the preparatory, first and second school grade. Among them 24 were from preparatory class, 23 from first and 13 from second grade. The students did not have any other impairment except the visual one.
In order to assess the students’ skills in tactile exploration of objects
there was an attempt made to find an appropriate test. As a basis were used: the test of Nolan & Morris (1960) for tactile recognition of 30 commonly used household objects, the study of Anderson (1984) where 10 objects were suggested for tactile exploration and the test of Mommers (1975) including separate three dimensional objects. On this basis some of the objects already used in the tests mentioned above were selected and few new ones were added. The total number of items was 30, among them household objects, toys, etc. The main aims were to establish:
; if students were able to recognize and name the objects.
; how blind students explored the objects tactually (using fully the model described above; using it partially or not following it at all),
Students were tested individually. The instruction was that the examiner was going to show them some items. They were to explore the objects carefully to the best of their skills and to name them if possible. The score for recognition consisted of the total number of correctly named objects. The observations included recording the technique/strategy used by each student and matching it with the proposed above model due to following its levels, their fulfillment on the suggested basis and recording any other technique or elements of technique used.
Means for the total correct responses in recognition and naming the objects are presented in Table 1.
Table 1 Mean total correct responses by item
Item Mean Item Mean Item Mean
1 1.00 11 .32 21 .48
2 .97 12 .57 22 .90
3 .37 13 .50 23 .82
4 .47 14 .47 24 .50
5 .53 15 .67 25 .45
6 .55 16 .52 26 .38
7 .62 17 .62 27 .18
8 .67 18 .40 28 .58
9 .55 19 .63 29 .37
10 .45 20 .83 30 .63
As it seen from Table 1 the most difficult objects for recognition and naming appeared to be items No 27 and 11, followed by No 3 and 29 (puzzle, CD, fan, candle stick). The easiest items were No 1, 2 and 22 (ball, book, doll).
Table 2 Frequency table
Value Frequency Percent
5 1 1.7
6 1 1.7
7 1 1.7
12 1 1.7
13 1 1.7
14 2 3.3
15 5 8.3
16 9 15.0
17 7 11.7
18 16 26.7
19 7 11.7
20 3 5.0
21 4 6.7
22 1 1.7
23 1 1.7
Total 60 100.0
The data in Table 2 show that most of the students - 48 or 80%, were able to recognize between 16 - 19 objects (53.3% - 63.3%), which is more than the half of the objects, but is though far from the total number of objects.
There were no significant differences found between object recognition and class or sex. Crosstabulations objects by class groups and sex is shown in Tables 3 and 4.
Table 3 Crosstabulations objects by class groups
Object - No Preparatory class First grade Second grade
7 1 100.0 100.0 100.0 2 91.3 100.0 100.0 3 30.4 34.8 50.0 4 47.8 39.1 57.1 5 52.2 52.2 57.1 6 52.2 65.2 42.9 7 56.5 73.9 50.0 8 65.2 65.2 71.4 9 52.2 65.2 42.9 10 34.8 52.2 50.0 11 17.4 43.5 35.7 12 47.8 65.2 57.1 13 56.5 47.8 42.9 14 52.2 34.8 57.1 15 65.2 69.6 64.3 16 43.5 56.5 57.1 17 65.2 56.5 64.3 18 26.1 43.5 57.1 19 52.2 73.9 64.3 20 82.6 82.6 85.7 21 39.1 47.8 64.3 22 82.6 91.3 100.0 23 87.0 78.3 78.7 24 34.8 65.2 50.0 25 52.2 34.8 50.0 26 30.4 39.1 50.0 27 13.0 13.0 35.7 28 56.5 56.5 64.3 29 26.1 39.1 50.0 30 52.2 69.6 71.4 Total 38.3 38.3 23.3
Although there were no significant differences found as it can be seen
from table 3, there is a trend for better presentation of upper classes and of
improvement in recognition by class. This trend is obvious in items No 3, 16,
18, 21, 22, 26, 29 and 30.
Table 4 Crosstabulations objects by sex
Object - No males females
1 100.0 100.0
2 100.0 92.9
3 25.0 50.0
4 65.6 25.0
5 46.9 60.7
6 50.0 60.7
7 53.1 71.4
8 71.9 60.7
9 68.8 39.3
10 43.8 46.4
11 31.3 32.1
12 46.9 67.9
13 65.6 32.1
14 56.3 35.7
15 53.1 82.1
16 46.9 57.1
17 62.5 60.7
18 40.6 39.3
19 59.4 67.9
20 81.3 85.7
21 50.0 46.4
22 81.3 100.0
23 84.4 78.6
24 53.1 46.4
25 56.3 32.1
26 37.5 39.3
27 15.6 21.4
28 46.9 71.4
29 34.3 39.3
30 62.5 64.3
Total 53.3 46.7
It has to be said that no significant differences appeared between object
recognition and sex, except of one in object 4 (screw driver) where ; 2 = 5.17
when p ； 0.05.
The level of fulfillment of the model for tactile exploration and its
phases is presented in Table 5.
Table 5 Fulfillment of the model
Phase of the model Mean
Final mark of the fulfillment 1.00
The mean of phases 1 and 2 appeared to be rather high. This is to be
explained by the fact that there were more choices in the way of fulfillment of
these phases compared to phase 3 with only two possibilities. The mean of
phase 3 show that 23% of the students explore the objects tracing the contours
first and then moving to the parts. The other 77% started from the parts or
details of the objects. The final mark with its mean of 1.00 shows that all students were included into a group where a partial use of the model was demonstrated. None of the students was classified as fully following the model. Nobody demonstrated a full lack of using the model. This can be explained with the fact that the sequence of the phases/levels proposed in the model is the only one possible from a physiological point of view and another sequence is not to be expected.
A short analysis will be also made on each phase/level of the model and its fulfillment. In the first phase there were three techniques demonstrated by the students: chaotic search (40%), search with horizontal movements of the hands (5%) and search with flat open hands (55%). At the second phase of the model all possible techniques were demonstrated: the grip (31.7%), the pinch (21.7%), the top sweep (20%), the span (3.3%), the trace (20%) and the span with one hand only (3.3%). In the third phase the techniques used were the following: tracing first the parts and details and then moving to the whole (76,7%) and tracing first the contours and moving to the various details or parts of the object (23,3%). In the fourth and last phase all techniques were demonstrated: no good mental picture and conclusions made (16,7%), partial construction of the tactile impressions and some conclusions (75%) and full mental constructing plus making conclusions (8,3%). On this basis it can be said that all 60 students (100%) were partially using the suggested model by following its phases or levels but fulfilling them inappropriately.
Although it was planned to suggest a structured program of activities to help young blind students to get proficiency in tactile exploration of objects in small space following the described above model, this program is still in a process of final constructing and framing. An experimental program was used during the school year 1999 - 2000 in the schools for visually impaired in Bulgaria with the aim to train young blind students in structured tactile technique for exploration of objects. It was planned this kind of training to be a part of the daily living skills’ curriculum. As the school year finished in late May and early June 2000, it was quite impossible to collect all data.