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Tangible Interfaces

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Tangible Interfaces Editor(s): Klaus Miesenberger

Categorization and Tags

Tangible Interfaces, Accessibility, Interaction Design


Today’s broadly used input devices keyboards and mice are both highly generic interfaces for human computer interaction which is both an advantages and a disadvantage. It allows the operation of very distinct tasks but also does not specifically support specific applications at the same time. The same applies to user group support. It can be used be a broad variety of users but does not support abilities or compensate limitations of individuals. This is where tangible user interfaces could come into play and tackle existing deficiencies. Tangible user interfaces integrate everyday physical but also virtual objects into the interaction with web based systems and services going beyond the traditional Human Computer Interaction (HCI) concepts and tools. This asks for addressing accessibility issues in the early stage of this new domain of [Interaction Design] but also invites to study how Tangible Interfaces could help to improve usability of interaction and in particular how to better address the needs of those user groups facing barriers with the traditional HCI.

Background and State-of-the-art

In the age of ubiquitous computing and the [Internet of Things] the physical and the digital get increasingly intertwined. Users interact with the web through the physical and also augmented environment. Objects get integrated into web based systems and services and objects provide interfaces to the Web. This transfers the fundamental question of accessibility into the [Internet of Things] but also challenges [Interaction Design] of technical artifacts with a new and growing attention to the human body, the skills and requirements of a diverse set of users including those with disabilities. Additionally, Tangible user interfaces allow new opportunities for the vast diversity of user group and their abilities and preferences[ZAJ12]. Although, the concept of tangible user interfaces is not novel and many researches showed great enthusiasm for this research field, it still suffers from missing user acceptance and end user applications which for the most part kept it under the heat lamp so far [KUM09]. This applies to both, tangible user interface concepts for traditional users and also TUI as alternative interface method for people who face barriers with traditional HCI. In addition, there are approaches which focus on using TUI for therapy [GUI14] and inclusion as well, like for people suffering from dementia, learning disabilities [ALJ11] or motor disabilities [STA13].


How to exploit best the potential of physical and virtual objects and the materials of the interface elements for Tangible Interfaces for people with disabilities? New challenging questions arise how tangible interfaces could help to overcome barriers for people with disabilities with the traditional HCI interfaces. How does this impact on accessibility and as well what potential for assistive functionalities and increased accessibility for people with disabilities?

Research Goals


  • Prioritized list of issues to be addressed
  • Indicative timeline (short/middle/long term)
  • Methodological considerations (e.g. studies, guidelines, standards, prototypes, experiments, implementation, dissemination, market penetration, education)

Issues to be addressed

For people with disabilities two questions are of major interest regarding Tangible Interfaces: 1. The accessibility and usability of systems and services employing Tangible Interfaces for people with disabilities. 2. The potential of the Tangible Interfaces as an enabler of assistive functionalities and/or increased accessibility support and services for people with disabilities in domains such as

  • Independent living, Ambient and Assisted Living (AAL) and Environmental Control
  • Cognitive support, ease of use and enhances learnability
  • Enhanced support for information provision in public spaces including shopping, cultural places, public transport
  • Service provision and (health) care
  • Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Education and learning
  • Job integration

Further on this topic should address question like

  • do existing guidelines and recommendations cover and sufficiently include Tangible Interfaces
  • do existing and proposed examples and installations of Tangible Interfaces in the domain of Interaction Design support accessibility or how could they do
  • Hardware accessibility of Tangible objects
  • Monitoring interaction design for accessibility
  • Studying the potential and impact of Tangible Interfaces for different user groups and application scenarios


  • [ALJ11] Jihad Aljaam and Ali Jaoua and Saleh AlHazbi and Ahmad Hasnah and Ali Karime and Abdelmutalib A. Elsaddik, An Assistive Computerized System with Tangible User Interfaces for Children with Moderate Intellectual and Learning Disabilities, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 2011
  • [GUI14]Elena de la Guia and Maria D. Lozano and Victor M. R. Penichet, Tangible User Interfaces applied to Cognitive Therapies, Smart Ojects IUI 2014 Workshop, 2014
  • [KUM09]Kumpf, Adam, Trackmate : large-scale accessibility of Tangible User Interfaces, 2009
  • [STA13] Starcic, Andreja Istenic and Cotic, Mara and Zajc, Matej, Design-based research on the use of a tangible user interface for geometry teaching in an inclusive classroom, British Journal of Educational Technology, 2013
  • [ZAJ12] Zajc, Matej and Istenic Starcic, Andreja, Jezic, Gordan and Kusek, Mario and Nguyen, Ngoc-Thanh and Howlett, RobertJ. and Jain, LakhmiC., Potentials of the Tangible User Interface (TUI) in Enhancing Inclusion of People with Special Needs in the ICT-Assisted Learning and e-Accessibility, Agent and Multi-Agent Systems. Technologies and Applications, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012