LightAide: Inspired Design Opens Minds

Seeing two children working together at school might not seem extraordinary. But in a US school recently, something truly remarkable was happening. Two children with different special needs were engaging in social play together. A student with learning disabilities used the LightAide to read the sight words, while a student with a vision impairment helped by pressing a switch to change the words. Misty Brown, their teacher, found that both students were attentive and engaged like never before. After finishing, the students requested to work together again in the future, showing that the LightAide can bring students of different abilities together.

Using LightAide to explore weather. Credit: UAH Rise Elementary.

Using LightAide to explore weather. Credit: UAH Rise Elementary.

Through a contest, five other schools were able to educate and engage children with light using LightAide. Ralph Pfluger Elementary School teacher, Jessica Ovalle, utilized LightAide to help younger children practice cause and effect.  With other children, she incorporated textured posters and scented markers to supplement LightAide’s preprogrammed activities. UAH Rise School used LightAide in their integrated pre-school program consisting of children with special needs and without special needs. Used during circle time routine, children worked on social interaction and weather identification. Children responded to the activities more independently and worked with their peers. Loge Elementary School in Boonville, Indiana created a seven-day lesson plan using the LightAide rainbow activity, highlighting a color each day.

The winning classroom at Ox Ridge Elementary in Connecticut worked with students to interact on a level playing field, giving children with vision impairments or cerebral palsy the opportunity to learn together. Betsy Caridi, teacher of the visually impaired, commented about the impact of LightAide in the classroom, “Another important objective is to help the typically developing peers understand and accept the student’s unique skills and contributions as a second grade learner!” As part of the contest, the staff integrated LightAide into their lessons and shared a LightAide lesson plan at the end of the contest. Ox Ridge Elementary gathered the most likes on their lesson plan, winning the LightAide.

LightAide engages children with 66 different pre-programmed activities, incorporating adapted switches. Children can explore turn-taking, letter recognition, counting, colors and more. The brightly colored LEDs are exciting and motivating to children who might not have usual vision or brain development. Each of the pre-programmed activities is described in the detailed Activity Workbook, allowing teachers and parents to engage with their children. The activities vary from simple to more complex, allowing children to progress through the activities.  LightAide was designed to be portable and light weight. Since it’s based on LED technology, the product stays cool, so it encourages children to explore tactilely without danger. LightAide is currently used around the globe for kids with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), CHARGE Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD.

Alexis plays with LightAide. Credit: Perkins School for the Blind.

Alexis plays with LightAide. Credit: Perkins School for the Blind.

Development of LightAide was possible through combining the teacher insights from Perkins School for the Blind  with technical expertise within Philips Color Kinetics. Over the two years of development, three different prototypes of LightAide were tested by over twenty teachers and parents. As teachers and parents used LightAide, they requested new activities to be created. Every activity was reviewed for link to early childhood curriculum, assuring applicability and importance of the learning objectives. It is no surprise that LightAide has great impact on learning of children; it was designed with the children at the center.

It was actually the special needs of a child that inspired LightAide, my own daughter – Alexis. As a small child with vision and hearing impairments, she was attracted to lights and enjoyed her toys with colored lights.  At Perkins, Alexis used a light board with Christmas tree lights attached to a switch, teaching her cause and effect. I brought Alexis to work and she was impressed with the dazzle of the lights. I went to work creating LightAide, to help Alexis and kids like her. Thankfully a dedicated team of creative and out-of-box thinkers supported the launch of LightAide as a commercial product. Now, LightAide is improving lives of children in 9 countries and in 35 US states. Proof positive that inspired design can truly open minds worldwide.

c86afbf65d1609e96849e6b6fe7e7338Catherine Rose leads multidisciplinary teams to transform space with light as Senior Segment Manager for Healthcare at Philips Lighting. Since 2012, Catherine has led all global activities for LightAide, an LED system for children with low vision and other special needs. Recognized as a ‘Rising Star’ by Boston Children’s Hospital and two-time Edison Awards winner, Catherine is adept at integrating technical solutions with entrepreneurial insights to improve the world around her. Catherine is most proud of her two daughters, who have overcome medical challenges and inspire her daily.


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