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Special backpacks help deaf students experience music

A tool used normally by DJs to feel intense bass without doing long-term hearing damage will now be used by deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Williams Elementary School in Mattoon, Illinois, to experience music tactilely.

With a grant from Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, these Eastern Illinois Area of Special Education deaf and hard-of hearing-students will now have a way to experience and follow along with music in class.

In their music classes, they will now be strapping on a backpack, SubPac, that produces heavy, deep vibrations that correlate with the music that is being played.

“We were having some problems with students in the music class not feeling connected,” said Debbie Rotramel, EIASE associate director. “They weren’t able to hear the music that the teacher played.”

While other students would be able to interact and respond, the students with hearing issues were unable to join in, Rotramel said.

Alex Murrill, EIASE teacher, said they would sometimes have the student put their hand against the speaker as it played music, but it was not a really fluid way of giving the students the experience of music.

“The teachers talked to me about that and wondered if I could come up with any ideas so I started doing some research and I found what is called SubPac,” Rotramel said.

Students will be using these packs to feel the music, instead of hearing it, to follow along and stay caught up with the class. Emitting frequencies between 5 and 130 hertz, the backpack produces a similar experience to that of a speaker shaking when music is loud.

Vivian Richey signed that it was similar to when a car starts and the music is loud, causing the car to vibrate.

“This gives them that experience so that they can make that connection (to music),” Rotramel said.

When putting on the backpack, many of the students’ faces lit up at having a tangible way of experiencing music. In some of the first tests of the equipment, many of the students would even dance with songs like “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).”

“It’s awesome,” Jadyn Adams of Shelbyville said.

Jadyn said it was difficult to concentrate on what the instructor would say as well as listen to the music being played.

Currently, only two packs were purchased for the students, but Rotramel said she would like to get more in order for everyone in the class to experience it at one time.

“It just provides them another outlet to expand their knowledge and expand what they are learning,” she said “We talk about music. We refer to music. It is a big part of our lives and it is something that they don’t understand because they don’t experience it.”

From AP’s member exchange.

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