Social-Haptic Communication

(Haptices and Haptemes)

Social-haptic communication is an approach developed over nearly 30 years to improving communication with a person with sensory loss (primarily blind and deafblind) with friends, family and professionals. It allows them to receive environmental descriptions, direction and locations of people and objects, and even experience stories through touch messages.

Close up image of hands performing Social-Haptic messages on a lady's back

Who is it for?

Blind and deafblind people are often left with no visual cues within their environment, such as feedback, the layout of a room, a person’s facial expressions (smiling, nodding, etc.), and the location of people and objects within a space. By using social-haptic communication, family members, a communicator guide or sign language interpreter can produce instantaneous, real-time touch messages to the user about their environment, allowing them to have a fuller experience, and thus improving quality of life and preventing isolation. As such, social-haptic communication can enhance all manner of experiences, such as professional meetings, social settings or parties, visits to museums, concerts, plays, and even outdoor activities, such as football games, an airshow, or even just a fabulous view.

Russ's back with hands performing Social-Haptic Communication

These social-haptic methods are extremely useful for blind and deafblind people, those with learning difficulties, carers, interpreters, family and friends, and health professionals. These techniques are also being applied internationally over a wide range of disability groups, including terminally ill and autism spectrum disorders, as well as being useful for speech scientists within university laboratory settings.

What are haptices and haptemes?

Haptices (touch messages) and haptemes (their grammar) are definitions within the social-haptic philosophical framework, which has been researched, analysed, and developed by Dr. Riitta Lahtinen through her PhD in 2008 at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and music therapist, Russ Palmer, who is also deafblind cochlear implant (CI) user. It is a professional, neutral form of communication, and in no way involves inappropriate touch. 

Russ's back with fingers and arrows showing Social-Haptic Communication

Haptices and haptemes are how we portray touch messages. For example, simple messages like ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are haptices; these involve a single message via touch.


Whereas haptemes modify the haptices to communicate additional detail and quality of information. The haptice 'yes' for example, can be modified into depicting a more enthusiastic 'yes' by changing the pressure and speed of the touch on the body. Haptemes refer to the grammar of touch, which show for example direction of movement, frequency, rhythm and duration onto the body.  

Russ's shoulder with fist and arrow showing Social-Haptic sign for coffee

What's the difference between social-haptic communication, haptic communication (signal), and haptic exploration?

Over the past few years, there appears to be some confusion between the definitions of social-haptic communication and haptic communication.


Social-haptic communication, by definition, refers to the interaction between two or more people in a social environment usually via touch into the body. 


Haptic communication (signals), by definition, refers to using a technological device, such as a smart phone that aids communication, or a physical object such as raised lettering that can be felt, including braille.

Haptic exploration is feeling the environment through hands, feet, legs, whole body, and equipment, such as a cane. It combines tactile, kinestic (posture and body orientation), gravitational information, and sometimes taste and smell.

Who developed social-haptic communication?

Dr Riitta Lahtinen has developed, researched and teaches social-haptic communication, haptices and haptemes, over nearly 30 years, working alongside her husband, Russ. Her PhD theses, 'Haptices and Haptemes', was accepted at the Behavioural Science Faculty at the University of Helsinki in 2008, and she was given the innovative award prize for her work in the same year.

How can I learn social-haptic communication?

Whether you are an interpreter, a health professional, a friend or family member, or an end user, Riitta and Russ provide courses to learn more about both the theory and practice of social-haptic communication.

Details of what's involved in each level of the course, plus upcoming dates are below. However, if what you require is not listed, please get in touch and we can potentially arrange a course in the near future in the area and at the level you need.

Social-haptic communication courses

The 'Social-Haptic Communication - Haptices and Haptemes' study

programme consists of three different levels, which are: 

Level 1 - Introduction, 

Level 2 –Intermediate 

Level 3 – Advanced

The lecturers will be Riitta Lahtinen, PhD, and Russ Palmer,

Music & Vibroacoustic Therapist. The maximum number of

students for a course will be 15-20. Some educational materials

can be purchased during the course.

Introduction Level 1 - Studied over 2 days + reading, analysing work

During the two-day course we will analyse and practice social-haptic communication – developing sense of touch when producing and receiving messages. During interaction and teaching situations we use our sense of touch and body movements when sharing information and situations with deafblind people. On the course we will analyse how social-haptic communication can be used, where we can use touch and its elements.


Intermediate Level 2 - Studied over 2 days + reading, analysing work

During the two-day course we will explore, share and discuss social-haptic communication used in everyday life with different kinds of client groups. Some practical ideas will be analysed in detail. Preparation work will be done by the students to illustrate how and where they use social haptics. Some of the elements of touch and haptemes  will be analysed and supervised. We will practice how to share environmental orientation, like body drawing and mapping onto the body. On the course we will experience how to describe arts onto the body. 


Advanced Level 3 - Studied over 2 days + reading, analysing work

This final stage of the study programme will consist of analysing haptices and haptemes in more detail, and elements of social-haptic communication based on theories and research. Different elements can be recognised as part of the grammar. We will practice how to describe different hobbies, sports and art forms onto the body. Participants will share their writing and analysis work with others.

Upcoming course dates

We have no upcoming course dates at this time; however, we are looking to run a level 1 course in Spring 2019 around the Chelmsford area. Please let us know if this would be of interest or if you'd like to request a course in a different area.

Feel free to contact Riitta for any additional information regarding courses.

Russ and Riitta taken during one of their training courses
Articles & Resources

By Riitta Lahtinen and Stina Ojala - 2018

This case study investigates interpreting emotions and behaviour for the deafblind. Here we give examples on the different methods used for enhancing emotions based on sign language, speech-to-text and other types of interpreting.

By Russ Palmer, Riitta Lahtinen and Stina Ojala - 2017 - pp 329-346

Body Story using touch to overcome language problems.

By Russ Palmer and Riitta Lahtinen - 2013

An article on the history of social-haptic communication.

By Russ Palmer, Riitta Lahtinen and Stina Ojala - 2012

Visual art experiences for dual sensory impaired persons through touch using haptices.

By Russ Palmer, Riitta Lahtinen and Stina Ojala - 2012

Introduction to a systematic, holistic way of experiencing music performances through touch.

By Riitta Lahtinen and Russ Palmer - 1994

This paper includes an evaluation of a real- life situation to illustrate how different forms of techniques may be used to assist families who have a "hearing-impaired Usher type 2 or 3 person", so that their quality of life can be improved.

Front cover of Environmental Description Book
Environmental Description
BOOK - £26.00
If you'd like to purchase a book, please contact us.
Front cover of Haptices and Haptemes book
Haptices and Haptemes
BOOK - £26.00
If you'd like to purchase a book, please contact us.