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How to turn a waiting room into a fun zone

Twelve-year-old Caleb, an outpatient with cerebral palsy, helped Professor Biddiss develop ScreenPlay (Photo by Kathy Foisey)

Nobody likes waiting. But for children at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, waiting just became fun.

It’s all thanks to ScreenPlay, an interactive waiting room developed by U of T professor Elaine Biddiss of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and Scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute.

With a pressure-sensitive floor comprising 100 tiles, ScreenPlay uses microcontroller switches to feed information to a computer which then applies corresponding images to a glass wall from a ceiling-mounted projector.

The result: anyone standing or sitting on the tiles can create elaborate, moving landscapes from the three rotating design motifs: flowers and bubbles, a forest blooming from a geometric grid, and abstract vines and patterns.

Twelve-year-old Caleb was part of a focus group of children who helped develop ScreenPlay. A regular outpatient at the hospital, Caleb says before ScreenPlay he twiddled his thumbs.

“I think it’s great because you can socialize, and it gets you off the chair and you just get to have more fun,” he says.

For Biddiss and her team, the challenge was to create an experience that helps serve the population it was designed to engage the most—kids with severe disabilities and mobility issues—even as it keeps active, able-bodied children calm, stationary, and engaged.

"We have a very vulnerable population here," says Biddiss, adding traditional waiting room toys have contact surfaces that easily spread infections. And traditional games, including video games, are often inaccessible to people with mobility challenges.

By contrast, ScreenPlay allows anyone to interact without ever having to touch a contact surface or each other. And clever design features make it rewarding for everyone.

"The longer you stay in one spot, the bigger the projection," Biddiss says, which allows those with the least amount of mobility to create the largest images.

At the same time, the floor promotes collaborative fun: multiple children of all abilities can play together on the floor to create wall-sized forests, for instance.

"The only thing that all these kids have in common is that if you’re standing or sitting you have gravity on your side," Biddiss says. "You have presence, and that presence is something we can always detect."

Biddiss notes that ScreenPlay was a "very collaborative effort" between engineers, the Holland Bloorview Children's Rehabilitation Foundation, as well as students from the Ontario College of Art and Design, who created the projector images for Associate Professor Geoffrey Shea's Interactive Communications class, a special class in which students create interactive experiences in collaboration with external partners.

Inspired by a foundation set up to honour the late Dr. Tammy Kagan-Kusher, the project was awarded a CIHR grant which Biddiss will use to study the effects of interactive play on patient stress-levels and overall experience.