Haptic suits give deaf concertgoers a way to experience music again

Music is one of the finest things one can experience in life, but sadly it’s something the deaf and hearing impaired are robbed of. But one of the things that’s often said about music is that you can feel it too, especially in a live setting. 

With that in mind, musician and artist Daniel Belquer of Music: Not Impossible (a spin off of Not Impossible Labs) set out to help the deaf rediscover a love of music, and after many trial and error tests, developed a haptic suit made up of 24 vibrating plates. It takes the form of a kind of backpack, with additional plates strapped to each wrist and ankle.

NPR visited the Silent Disco: An Evening of Access Magic event at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York where 75 of the suits were made available to anyone who wanted to borrow one.

Rather than try and replicate music with simple beats, the suit aims to deliver different sensations that complement the music being played. The vibrations are controlled and mixed by a DJ. By mixing lights, the music itself (via optional headphones) and the vibrations, the concertgoers are all experiencing the same thing at the same time. You know how people are, get them in a group and soon they’ll be dancing and having fun like nobody’s watching.

One of the attendees heaped praise upon the suits. Lily Lipman, who has auditory processing disorder, said “It’s cool, because I’m never quite sure if I’m hearing what other people are hearing, so it’s amazing to get those subtleties in my body.”

The organizers of the event and representatives from Not Impossible were also full of praise. And so are we. Anything that helps to promote inclusivity and accessibility by allowing people with disabilities to enjoy some of the things we take for granted is simply wonderful.

Enjoying live music is one of my favorite pastimes. Though I don’t get off my butt and go as much as I used to, seeing the enjoyment these concertgoers had when experiencing something many of us take for granted has given me the kick I need to go and see (and hear) something again.