iFidget, an app to help blind people stop rocking, good idea or bad?

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.

https://twitter.com/amy0223/status/682057201762975744

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?

7 thoughts on “iFidget, an app to help blind people stop rocking, good idea or bad?

  1. well, having been blind only in my adult life (since age 23), I never developed the rocking habit. I do, however, have the constantly jiggling leg issue (its called a mild case of tourette’s). not a lot I can do about it until I am aware of it, and sometimes not even then. The app could also be used to indicate balance in some situations. A modification of the app using multitone sounds can even give position in space relative to the direction of gravity. like you said, a lot of uses.

    • Eric, thanks for taking the time to comment. While I clearly have issues with the app itself, I do like the idea of possibly leveraging iOS device sensors to help with balance. I wonder if this has ever been done before?

  2. First, as I tried and miserably failed to say in 140 characters, I am not opposed to this app in principle. As a serious one-time rocker who still can lapse in high pressure situations I was bullied, badgered and harangued out of it in my childhood and teens, and I’ll never forget the absolute shame of being told off in a public place or in front of strangers for rocking. I only wish I’d had some nice little device to vibrate when I was rocking back then! It’s sometimes difficult to remember that what one person sees as condescending, patronizing and an insult to their independence is someone else’s essential tool which they wouldn’t be without. For example, I’d never ever use an app like BE My Eyes even though I live in a totally sightless household. The thought of calling some total stranger I don’t know and asking for help fills me with horror, but I know lots of people who swear by it and find it an absolute boon. So it might be with iFidget. Frankly, anything that gives control and independence back to us, though some may not like it, has to be a good thing in the long run.

    Having said all this, I freely acknowledge that there are downsides which must be watched out for. I would violently oppose anyone of any age being forced into using this app. You have to want to stop doing a thing, whatever it is, before you can stop. And an application which hasn’t been updated in over a year and which is now being promoted is, quite frankly, sloppy to say the least. Even if it were perfect, which by your own experiments it is very far from, changes in the iOS would have made updates necessary. I think a lot more work is needed before anyone would take this app seriously, but I was sad to read the rockin’ jokes on Twitter today. To some of us this horrible thing wasn’t and isn’t a joke. It’s just one more thing which makes people treat us as if we’re abnormal.

    • Lulu, thank you so much for commenting and for your perspective on this. I guess I would just feel more comfortable if the app were somehow only triggered by rocking. The fact that just about all types of motion can trigger the app scares me, especially when it comes to potential use by kids. Sure having a reminder to stop rocking might be helpful, but what about when the child wants to play or needs to get up from their desk? Who will have access to the generated graphs and will they be used to provide assessment data to measure a child’s progress in some way? As adult, you and I can make intelligent decisions about whether to use this app, but in my experience, when it comes to children, this decision is far to often left in the hands of people who supposedly “know better.” And while rocking may be a socially unacceptable behavior, motion in children is generally something that is not discouraged. I guess in the end, my hope is that if the app is used, it’s used responsibly and that people truly understand that the app can’t “cure” rocking or even track rocking specifically; it just alerts and tracks motion, be that socially acceptable or unacceptable motion.

      Thanks again for commenting, I really appreciate you taking the time to help keep the conversation going.

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  4. Now wondering if I rock and everyone is too polite to tell me… Or maybe I misinterpreted “You rock” comments. It’s a tool, it’s always how people apply the tools that can make or break. I think it does bring up the bigger issue, is there the need to have an affectation of being able to see? Personally I’d welcome any tech to help me if I had some sort of tick, but that’s just me. Aside from this, the app sounds pretty whack so as yet I guess the effectiveness of the concept can’t yet be judged.

  5. First off, I think the concept of this app is good, but I think teachers should still be in charge of telling the child to stop rocking.
    Second, in my opinion, I think rocking is more than simply a habit. I think there are factors to consider on why a blind person tends to rock. Maybe it is due to lack of stimulation? Maybe it occurs when the person is bored?

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