Two weeks ago, we featured LEGO’s ingenious adaptation of their blocks to teach braille. (This was part of an earlier blog piece of our Assistive Tech Tuesday series.) Well, LEGO has gone a step further with audio and braille instructions and narratives. Not only does this make their beloved bricks accessible to blind children, it also has much educational value!
Available in audio text and text-to-braille formats, LEGO Audio & Braille Building Instructions gives “blind and visually impaired children of all ages an opportunity to play with LEGO sets and to enjoy the developmental benefits of creative LEGO play experiences.”
As with LEGO’s planned use of bricks with raised dots to teach young children braille, LEGO Audio & Braille Building Instructions is built on the proven concept of learning through play. “opens up the joy of learning and social interaction through playful collaboration between the visually impaired and their sighted peers paving the way for improved confidence, creativity, problem-solving and communication needed to support life goals.” In that way, not only is this new product an accommodation, it also embraces inclusion. After all, children (and adults) have a great deal to learn from their non-disabled peers… and vice versa.
Furthermore, children can form images of common objects such as a building or bus in their mind, to better understand what these things are like in real life. The three-dimensional tactile learning can be more effective than “two-dimensional” verbal text descriptions.
The Vision Behind This Effort
A blind man named Matthew Shifrin loved LEGO as a boy, but he needed help from others because the instructions are entirely graphic. One day, young Matthew received a big box containing 821 pieces to build a Prince of Persia castle. A friend, Lilya, included a binder of text instructions printed in braille. Believing these to be too good to keep to himself, Michael set out to create braille instructions for blind children he felt deserved to be included in the LEGO community. With Lilya. Matthew built legofortheblind.com, with text-based instructions for more than 30 sets that can be translated to screen-reader (e.g., JAWS) and audio versions. They can also be accessed with a braille reader, such as BraileNote Apex and Focus 50. (Among these are instructions for the 1,290-piece set to build Hogwarts Castle.) Matthew then contacted the LEGO Foundation to inquire whether they would be interested. The Danish company accepted the idea, making their construction toy more accessible and more inclusive—literally spreading the love.