A program, headed by Lego and pitched by two non-profit visually-impaired advocacy groups, seeks to create a fun, interactive way to teach the braille writing system.
When Carlton Cook Walker’s young daughter developed health problems that led to near-total blindness, she knew she wanted her to learn Braille. But the family’s school, in rural central Pennsylvania, was resistant. A teacher pointed out that the girl, then in preschool, could still read print — as long as it was in 72-point type and held inches from her face.
“I said, ‘What about when she is in high school? How will she read Dickens like this?’” recalled Ms. Cook Walker, whose daughter, Anna, is now 18. “The teacher’s response was chilling: ‘Oh, she’ll just use audio.’”
So Ms. Cook Walker took matters into her own hands. In addition to successfully advocating Braille in her daughter’s school, she bought used children’s books, embossed Braille dots alongside the text and rebound them, teaching Anna to read through the stories of “The Berenstain Bears” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”
Now, a new effort is underway to ease challenges like these and help blind and visually impaired children more naturally learn to read Braille, a system based on different configurations of six small, raised dots that blind people read with their fingertips. And it is coming in the form of a favorite childhood toy: Lego bricks.
Recently, the Lego Foundation, which is funded by the Lego Group, the Danish toy company that makes the blocks, announced a new project that will repurpose the usual knobs atop the bricks as Braille dots. And because the blocks will also be stamped with the corresponding written letter, number or punctuation symbol, they can be played with by blind and sighted children alike. The project, called Lego Braille Bricks, is in a pilot phase and is expected to be released in partnership with schools and associations for the blind in 2020.
“When they get Lego in their hands, it’s intuitive for them,” said Diana Ringe Krogh, who is overseeing the project for the Lego Foundation. “They learn Braille almost without noticing that they are learning. It is really a learning-through-play approach.”
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