Education: littleBits Shine in Disability Programs

By Erin Mulcahy

The simplicity and instant gratification of snapping together the Bits modules, combined with multiple input and output possibilities, make littleBits a great tool for teaching and engaging students with a range of disabilities. To highlight the great work people are doing in this specialized field, we recently spoke with three groups in Europe that are leading interactive programs, research and workshops. Their inspiring stories are below:

University of Reading: Berkshire, England

A learning disability research team at University of Reading is involved in a three year research project, Interactive sensory objects for and by people with learning disabilities. The project is funded through 2015 by the AHRC, Arts and Humanities Research Council, which works with people with learning disabilities as Co-Researchers to find out what makes visiting museums more interesting for them. The team explores ways to make objects in museums interactive using electronics and sensors, with a focus on multi-sensory art workshops.

As part of the project, Kate Allen and her team are developing tools to use with the Co-Researchers in workshops to allow participants to be more engaged and independent. They have been using littleBits to develop ideas for triggering sounds, smells, and vibrations in objects. Through their workshop experience, the team noticed that some of the littleBits components were hard for the group to handle. This lead to creating their ‘littleBits go LARGE’ project, which increased the size of the modules, but kept the functionality in tact. It’s truly brilliant; see the full description on our community page. The team was thrilled to announce that the project recently won an International Design for All Foundation Award!

go large

See the videos of the littleBits go LARGE project in action here. A lot of the students found the pieces much easier to use (see below: Rachel points to the ‘easy’ card).

Rachel points to the easy sign

The team is currently working with a group of Reading College LLD/D Students, who are students in their early twenties that have a range of learning difficulties and disabilities, including Down Syndrome and Autism.  In April, workshops begin at The British Museum, London with a group of people with learning disabilities. They are also working together at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, which will hold an exhibition on sensory objects on June 9th and a Sensory Objects Seminar on June 10th.

Guillermo using littleBits to trigger a smellbox developed by sensory objects, the box contained lavender blown by a fan triggered by littleBits


St. Angela’s College: Sligo, Ireland

St. Angela’s College is a University level provider of Nursing and Home Economics teacher training in Sligo, Ireland. Through the college’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, the ICT department piloted a technology workshop for children with Intellectual Disabilities. Using a number of littleBits Starter Kits, the workshop focused on exploratory, open play learning for children with various degrees of Autism.

“The children found the simplicity and immediate effect of putting littleBits circuits together fascinating,” says Dr. Niamh Plunkett, Director of the Centre for Lifelong Learning. While the workshop focused on a variety of technologies, the reaction and intrigue to the littleBits circuits was immediate. “The children could build a simple reactive circuit in seconds and quickly began swapping out components to observe the change,” workshop instructor Brendan White describes.  The students attended from a local school, St. Ceclia’s, which caters to students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities.

Building on the success of the pilot, Brendan and his group are planning a follow-up session with St. Ceclia’s to identify what learning outcomes littleBits can complement for the students. “Identifying the individual needs and abilities of each student is key,”according to Dr. Plunkett.

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Lund University: Lund, Sweden

Héctor Caltenco and his group at Lund University’s Division of Rehabilitation Engineering Research in the Department of Design Sciences, are better known as ‘Certec.’ The division’s research and education initiatives strive to enable people with disabilities to achieve better opportunities through more useful technology, new design concepts and new individual forms of learning and searching. At the annual Information Day and Interactivity Workshop in October 2013, the goal was to explore how technology and design can create greater opportunities for people with disabilities.

In the workshop, participants built interactive objects using littleBits to see how to infuse light, sound and movement into everyday materials. No electronics knowledge was required, so anyone could participate regardless of their abilities. The objective was for participants to learn that good ideas and creativity, combined with electronics and technology, can bring improvement to quality of life.


There were three 40 minute workshop sessions, which were each attended by 12 participants. Even though most of the participants had no disabilities, they were all related to or interested in the disabilities field.

Here’s how the workshop was structured:

– 10 minutes to introduce the interactivity (inputs-outputs, action-reaction), demonstrate interactivity with littleBits and explain the difference and color-coding of each type of module.

– 5 minutes to introduce an example of a “scenario.” Each group chose one of the available scenarios to try to solve. Scenarios for this workshop were based on a fictitious person with a disability and an everyday problem that could be solved with a good idea and simple, but interactive technology. Ex. “Julia’s electricity bill is sometimes very high. Julia’s children sometimes leave the lights in a room on. As Julia is blind, sometimes the lights is on in a room for the whole day (or night) without her noticing. Julia wants to know when the lights are turned on in a room, so she can turn them off if nobody is using them.”

– 20 minutes to discuss and build a solution for the scenario they have chosen. Solutions were built using different kinds of materials (cardboard, paper, foam, etc.), tools (scissors, glue, etc.) and littleBits.

– 5-10 minutes for each group to present and demonstrate their solution to the other groups

Another workshop is planned for June, which will be focused on ‘universal design’ using littleBits and other materials.



Are you using littleBits in disability education or research programs? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at 


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