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Children disability technology  Robots helping children with motor impairments to reach their learning potential through play: the
  IROMEC  Project experience



Francesca Caprino University of Aosta Valley Faculty of Sciences of the Formation Italy

Robots helping children with motor impairments to reach their learning potential through play: the IROMEC Project experience. The European IROMEC project (IST-FP6-045356) targets children who are prevented from playing, either due to cognitive, developmental or physical impairments which affect their playing skills, leading to general impairments in their learning potential and more specifically resulting in isolation from the social environment.

IROMEC, starting from panels with secondary end users (teachers, clinicians and parents), has developed a system composed by three parts: a new robotic device, specifically designed for inclusive play, a set of play scenarios where this robot can be used and finally a methodological proposal for their application in rehabilitative and educational context.


Pedagogical research recognizes play as the primary occupation of childhood, emphasizing the role of play for cognitive, motor, communicative and social development [3]. Nevertheless, children with disability may be prevented to fully develop their play skills, due to physical, cognitive or emotional impairments.

Engagement in play of children with motor impairments (e.g. cerebral palsy) is often found to be significantly lower compared to typically developing children of the same age [1].

The play deprivation experienced by these children can be considered a consequence of both individual and environmental factors: on one hand, the presence of functional impairments (e.g. severe language disorders, limbs spasticity, severe impairment of fine motor functions) can make the interaction with play materials difficult thus influencing participation in play activities with peers while on the other hand environmental barriers, like not accessible toys, or unavailability of complex technologies, may obstacle the full expression of their residual abilities.

Since robotics, already applied as a technology to support learning in the mainstream education [2], can provide accessible and interactive play materials, it can be used to overcome the environmental barriers and to compensate physical impairments, offering the motor impaired children inclusive play opportunities.

This study presents the findings of an experimental research, carried out within the European project IROMEC (Interactive RObotic social MEdiators as Companions, IST-FP6-045356).

A novel mobile robot developed by the project has been experimented with children with severe motor impairments (one of the three target user groups identified by the project) in individual and group play settings. A small set of commercial toy robots have been also customized in order to make them more accessible with the aim of proving the need of more specific robotic devices.

The robotics systems have been applied in a set of pre-defined play scenarios, which have been constructed analysing the children’s play needs through several user panels involving parents, teachers, carers and therapists. First results show how the IROMEC robot and the other systems applied, offering accessible playful experiences to motor impaired children, can be used as a tool for the achievement of a wide range of educative objectives.


[1]. Brodin, J. (1999). Play in Children with Severe Multiple Disabilities: Play with Toys - A Review. ‘International Journal of Disability, Development and Education’, 46 (1), 25-34.

[2]. Denis, B., Hubert, S. (2001). Collaborative learning in an educational robotics environment . ‘Computers in human behavior’, 17(5-6), 465-480.

[3]. Rubin, K. H., Fein, G., Vanderberg, B. (1983). Play. In: P. Mussen & E.M. Hetherington (eds.) Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development. New York, NY, USA: Wiley, 693-774




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