Multisensory design

This section describes technology currently available in Ireland, which employs sound, touch and as many other senses as possible in addition to vision for the management of day-to-day living. It briefly describes each technology with links to related web pages for more information.

We welcome comments on these pages and your suggestions for technology or pieces of equipment you find useful and would like to share with others. Please send any comments or suggestions by email to

All pages were written by Cearbhall O’Meadhra, Principal Researcher at MSD Group, Dublin, Ireland.

Multisensory Design

The term Multisensory Design (MSD) describes a new approach that explains the environment through the medium of our senses. We have eight senses with which we understand everything around us. These are the usual five—sight, sound, touch, smell and taste—together with balance, temperature and body awareness. Every time we meet a new situation, all our senses become alert, looking for stimulation from the new situation. In Western culture, we are accustomed to using sight for all our activities. If we have the use of vision, we are happy with the stimulation we receive, but if we do not have the use of vision, we become aware of the lack of stimulation and the disappointment that results.

The experience of losing hearing generally results in a similar sense of disappointment. Thus, we see a need to “compensate” for the inadequacy of the individual to perform visually or aurally. Over time, “assistive technology” has emerged and is thought of as a special means of overcoming the helplessness of the individual. The marvellous thing about assistive technology is that it has allowed us to open up a hitherto unused non-visual or non-aural sensory approach that would not have been thought possible before. Once a person learns how to use the assistive technology, it ceases to be “assistive” and becomes that person’s “normal” way of perceiving the experience through an alternative sensory modality.

The concept of MSD places equal importance on the sensory perception delivered by all eight senses and seeks to identify all the factors that feed each sensory process. As soon as we meet a new situation, all eight senses become alert and seek stimulation in order to build up the fullest perception possible. When a person begins to lose the effective use of vision or hearing, they still have the power to use any of the remaining senses. So when society focuses all its attention on vision and largely ignores the perceptions delivered by the other senses, it is missing an opportunity to provide a complete sensory message to every individual and, in fact, disables us all from using those other senses. The movement to generate assistive technology has succeeded in developing a range of “sensory “solutions that afford every individual, whether disabled or not, the possibility of using other senses apart from vision or audio as a means of enjoying a “multisensory” experience. Multisensory design is an approach that intentionally develops stimulation to as many senses as possible. One of the best products ever to display many of the characteristics expected of a product designed according to MSD principles is the iPhone. This remarkable device is usable through vision, speech, audio, touch, balance, temperature and kinaesthetics and an object of aesthetic beauty. In addition, it is one of the most successful products on the market today.

In the pages (coming soon to this website), we will highlight the ways in which assistive technology engages the senses of the individual user when we make use of computers and other technology in a non-visual or non-aural way.