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Dr. Riitta Lahtinen

Born and raised in Finland, Riitta is the senior researcher and leader of the Social-Haptic Communication research group, which is part of the ISE (Intensive Special Education) research group at the University of Helsinki, Finland.


She has researched, analysed, developed, and taught social-haptic communication, haptices (touch messages), and their grammar, haptemes, for almost 30 years, working alongside her husband, Russ. Her PhD theses, 'Haptices and Haptemes', was accepted at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki in 2008, and she was given the innovative award prize for her work in the same year.


Riitta has experience working as a qualified teacher, sign language interpreter and mobility & low vision teacher and audio describer. She has published various articles, books and teaching materials of haptices, environmental description and communication methods. She is involved in running international courses on social-haptic communication, haptices and communication methods for blind and deafblind people, their families, interpreters and professionals internationally, as well as for early intervention and the elderly.

Riitta is currently the head of the Communication Unit at the Finnish Deafblind Association and doing her post-doctoral research on haptices.

Russ and Riitta laughing whilst doing Social-Haptics

Riitta's Highlights

In the beginning...

Riitta qualified as a nurse in 1985 and worked in a Psychiatrical Criminal Hospital for a year with Challenging behaviour and the treatment of mental diseases. She also qualified as a sign language interpreter for Deaf and deafblind people.

Riitta was appointed Usher Syndrome Project Leader at the Finnish Deafblind Association. Here she studied special teaching skills at the University of Helsinki. The following years she added to her skillset, working as a teacher in a Deaf school with 6 Deaf multiple handicapped children; as a freelance interpreter for deafblind people and a National Deafblind Theatre Group; as a teacher of health and daily living skills at the Deaf High School in Helsinki; and as a deafblind and Usher Syndrome advisor at Hjemmet For Dove, in Norway, giving training courses to staff in deafblind awareness and communication.

Riitta and Russ Palmer met in 1991 at a Dbl conference in Sweden.


Having spent a year in the UK with Sense as a special teacher in communication, Riitta returned to Finland working for the Finnish Deaf

Association. In 1998, Riitta received EU funding to carry out a joint project between Italy, Finland and the UK, to produce an educational package titled 'Basic English for Deaf Learners'. She also qualified as a mobility and low vision teacher.

Over the past 30 years, Riitta has created, developed and researched social-haptic communication - a system of communication through touch for those with sensory impairments. She is now the head of the Communication Unit of the Finnish Deafblind Association.

The Social-Haptic Network has been collaborating with different universities in Finland. The Intensive Special Education (ISE) is a research group at the Department of Education in the University of Helsinki, which started in May 2014. The leader and senior researcher is Riitta Lahtinen (PhD), head of the Communication Unit from the Finnish Deafblind Association, while Russ Palmer SRAT(M) acts as consultant. The supervisor of the research group is Docent Elina Kontu.

Recent & future...

Riitta defended 'Haptices and Haptemes', her PhD thesis, in 2008. The thesis has been awarded an innovative prize in Finland.


Riitta provides international courses with Russ across Europe on communication methods for blind and deafblind people and their families, along with interpreters and professionals. She is also planning University academic courses and publications. 


Riitta's post-doctoral studies include writing articles, supervising students with their masters and doctoral theses.


She is currently collaborating on a research project using haptices in hospital settings, involving nurses at the University hospital of Oulu, in Finland.

Articles & Resources

By Riitta Lahtinen, C. Groth and Russ Palmer - 2018

Published in Multimodal Technologies and Interaction.

By Stina Ojala, Riitta Lahtinen and H. Hirn - 2017

Published in Well-Being in Information Society e-book;

Finnish Journal of eHealth and eWelfare.

By Stina Ojala, Riitta Lahtinen and A. Äärelä - 2016

Published in Linguistic Lettica. Latvieŝu Valodas Institūta Žurnals, pp34-49.

Using haptices in health care settings.

By Riitta Lahtinen, Russ Palmer and S. Tuomaala - 2016

Published in the DbI Review 56, pp18-19.

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