My mouth dropped open in disbelief when a friend, Grace, told me about an app designed to help the blind stop rocking back and forth, something that many blind people do. There’s lots of reasons for the rocking that I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say it’s one of those habits that parents, educators and other adults try to curb in children in an effort to help them be more “socially acceptable.” Well move over parents, educators and other adults, because as Apple would say, “there’s an app for that.”
Brought to us by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind:
iFidget is an app designed to help people with a range of habits from rocking back and forth to restless leg syndrome or even just constant fidgeting. It has an incredibly simple design, but it has a very big future.
iFidget is designed to be used while you’re sitting. It can be set to vibrate or play a sound when it detects that you aren’t sitting still. iFidget attempts to tell the difference between somebody who is rocking, fidgeting or moving constantly vs somebody who is just shifting their weight at a table.
The description goes on from there describing how the app can be a “therapeutic tool” that can help people who subconsciously engage in this behavior and wish to stop. So how does it work? Basically, the app runs on an iOS device and when motion is detected, it vibrates to provide the user with a subtle reminder, presumably to be still. The app can also play a sound effect if vibration isn’t an option or isn’t desired. In addition, the app’s sensitivity can be adjusted to ensure that a greater or lesser amount of motion is needed to trigger the alert. But wait, that’s not all. iFidget also gives the user — or someone working with the user — the ability to see a graph showing just how much rockin’ is happenin’.
As a long time hard-core rocker myself, I had mixed feelings when I heard about iFidget, the first one being absolute horror that kids could potentially be forced to use this app in school settings “for their own good.” Would a child see this as a gentle reminder or a means of negative reinforcement? And what about the potential humiliation of needing to share the graph with an educator or therapist of some kind? Second, the app just doesn’t seem very practical to me. I’ve been using it throughout the day and initially found that the app alerted me to any motion including when I’d engage in such socially unacceptable tasks as reaching for my coffee cup. Adjusting the sensitivity helped with this, however, the app would still alert me to major motion such as my standing up to walk into another room. In fact, I got quite the massage walking from my basement office to my upstairs kitchen. The app also doesn’t run in the background and can’t be configured to run when the iOS device starts up. Oh yes and if the device’s screen locks, the app stops working as well. One other discovery I made is that if I put the device in my pants pocket, I could rock with my upper body all I wanted — how long before kids figure that one out?
I posted a link to the app on Twitter and the response was swift and immediate.
— Graceek (@arwen3791) December 30, 2015
That’s funny. I never needed an app. https://t.co/9JbKzOtF4c
— Allison Meloy (@technocounselor) December 30, 2015
@steveofmaine. Maybe I'm going to get some flack for this, but I don't get what the objection is. I think it could be a good thing.
— LadyMem (@LadyMem) December 30, 2015
@steveofmaine I think an app like this can help give awareness and ultimately control back to the blind person.
— Lisa Salinger (@lisasali) December 30, 2015
— Lulu Hartgen 🐻 💗 (@lulu_bear) December 30, 2015
The tweets go on and on and on … the above is just a small sampling … clearly this is an emotionally charged issue. While I’m certainly not opposed to apps that help people self-improve, I remain concerned about the potential long-term effects this could have on blind kids if forced to used this app. Oh and one more thing, while the description may claim that this app “has a very big future,” the app itself hasn’t been updated since November 20, 2014. So, positive or negative, what do you think?