Stanford University, 2015      3 Months      Teammate: So Yeon Park

How might we create a therapy game that hearing disabled children could play at home with their friends and family, that will accelerate language learning in the younger years, when the hearing is still strong?

The Problem

More than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, so parents with deaf children easily find themselves at a loss as to how to help their kids develop various abilities, especially linguistic skills.* 

Spoken language development is often delayed in children with deafness.** 

The problem is worse in developing countries as access to clinicians and speech therapists are rare and children with hearing loss and deafness rarely receive any schooling.**


The Insights

The field work at AYJN Institute for the Hearing Handicapped brought to light interesting facts:

  • Young hearing impaired patients often face speech and language problems as they grow up.

  • Early and constant therapy can help grasp language while the hearing is still strong.

  • Therapy is costly and it takes place only in a clinic.

Questions that helped see the opportunity:

  • Why should learning be restricted to the few hours at the clinic?

  • How can time outside the clinic also be turned into a learning experience?

The Game Prototype V.1

A game with the objective of guessing words using lip reading. Lip reading is a technique used by speech therapists to teach language. It is accompanied by touching the mouth and throat, feeling the vibrations and the heat coming out of the mouth.

The games makes use of the first 48 words that children learn, printed on magnetic tiles, in addition to 12 blank pieces that could be written upon.

The kit consists of a deck of cards with the 48 words and corresponding images and the magnetic tiles.

Difficulty or the level of words increase depending on how deep in the mouth the sound is produced. Words produced around the lips are the most easy to guess.


User Testing V.1

The V.1 of the game was tested with children, deaf adults and preschool teachers.

  • The game can be played between two teams with equal number of players. Both, the hearing impaired and the able can play the game together.

  • All the tiles are laid out on the table.

  • Team 1 picks up a random word card from the deck. Says the word by moving their lips without making sound.

  • Team 2 tries to guess the word by looking at the mouth and the randomly arranged tiles for reference. Once they guess the word they point it out. If correct, then the piece is won.

One could make sentences using words on the pieces (for storytelling) or teach concepts of order and sequence.

Since the tiles are dynamic they can be turned over and used to make different forms and communicate like tangrams. The game can be played over vertical surfaces thus it can be used to communicate to larger audiences.

It is an inclusive game that gives the hearing disabled children an opportunity to interact equally with their peer. At the same time, it is a great tool for the rest of the peers to empathize with the hearing disabled children.

The feedback we received was very helpful in defining our future design directions. We narrowed them down to the following four:


The Game Prototype V.2

Various prototypes were designed to test ergonomics, different shapes, materials and ways to bring in color. Concepts like sentence formations and nouns versus verbs were also designed and tested.

  • The rhombus shape was chosen as it is easy to tessellate and creates interesting shapes.

  • The size and thickness were chosen for easy grip and safety. The size discourages children to put the tiles into their mouth. The rounded corners prevent children from getting hurt.

  • Colorful visuals support the words below them and represent the three levels of the game.

  • The design is streamlined and minimalistic to convey that this game is intuitive and easy.

  • Duron is a hard material that won’t break easily and is reliable.


User Testing V.2

The prototyping session at the Bing Nursery School, gave real feedback and an opportunity to observe how children interacted with the game.

It was very encouraging to see that the children we not only able to understand and follow the game instructions but thoroughly enjoyed playing it. The game particularly excited the shyest child in class which was a big indicator to the inclusive nature of the game. It was an absolute delight seeing them play with the game and getting excited!

First Place at the RESNA Student Design Competition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation

Rhombus Rumbles featured on the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America and Perspectives in Assistive Technology.

* Vohr B. Overview: infants and children with hearing loss—part I. Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2003;9:62–64.

** WHO Deafness and hearing loss Factsheet http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs300/en/