“Lego Group, Foundation Team Up with Blind Associations to Develop Braille Bricks” by S.M. O’Connor

The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation announced the LEGO® Braille Bricks project (Braille customized LEGO® Bricks) at the Sustainable Brands Conference in Paris, France on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.  The Danish Association of the Blind first proposed the concept to the LEGO® Foundation in 2011, and the Brazilian-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind proposed the same concept in 2017.  The LEGO® Foundation subsequently refined the concept in collaboration with associations for the blind in Denmark, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Norway.  Subsequently, The LEGO® Group and LEGO® Foundation tested prototypes in those countries.

Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This video provides an overview if the new LEGO® Braille Bricks.

 

“With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read Braille,” stated Philippe Chazal, Treasurer of the European Blind Union. “This is particularly critical when we know that Braille users often are more independent, have a higher level of education and better employment opportunities. We strongly believe LEGO Braille Bricks can help boost the level of interest in learning Braille, so we’re thrilled that the LEGO Foundation is making it possible to further this concept and bring it to children around the world.”

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) estimates that 19,000,000 children around the world are visually impaired. Of these, 1,400,000 have irreversible blindness.  Around 75% of European adults who are visually impaired are unemployed, and, according to the European Disability Forum and European Blind Union, unemployment is closely linked to discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion for the visually impaired.  According to the European Disability Forum and Human Rights Watch, children with disabilities often face difficulties in school systems due to a lack of resources.

In the U.S.A., only 10% of blind children are learning to read Braille, compared with over 50% in the 1950s, according to a National Federation of the Blind report.  However, according to the American Printing House for the Blind, there is an indication that the trend if reversing with the public regaining faith in the relevance of learning Braille, despite advanced digital aids for the blind.

LEGO® Braille Bricks will be molded with the same number of studs used for individual letters and numbers in the Braille alphabet, yet LEGO® Braille Bricks will be fully compatible with the LEGO® System in Play. To ensure the tool is inclusive allowing teachers, classmates, and relatives who are not blind to interact on equal terms, each brick will also feature a printed letter or character. The LEGO® Group stated, “This ingenious combination brings a whole new and playful approach to get blind and visually impaired children interested in learning Braille, enabling them to develop a breadth of skills needed to thrive and succeed in a fast-paced world.”

Morten Bonde, LEGO® Group Senior Art Director, who suffers from a genetic eye disorder that is gradually turning him blind, worked as an internal consultant on the project. Morten currently has four-degree sight left but is determined not to let his loss of sight limit him.  He stated, “Experiencing reactions from both students and teachers to LEGO Braille Bricks has been hugely inspirational and reminded me that the only limitations I will meet in life are those I create in my mind. The children’s level of engagement and their interest in being independent and included on equal terms in society is so evident. I am moved to see the impact this product has on developing blind and visually impaired children’s academic confidence and curiosity already in its infant days.”

The product is currently being tested in Danish, Norwegian, English and Portuguese.  It will be tested in German, Spanish and French in the third quarter of 2019. The final version of the LEGO® Braille Bricks kit is expected to be available in 2020.  It will be distributed free of charge to select institutions through participating partner networks in the markets where testing is being carried in 2019.  The kit will contain approximately 250 LEGO® Braille Bricks in five colors.  They will cover the full Braille alphabet, numbers 0-9, and select mathematical symbols, as well as inspiration for teaching and interactive games.

“Blind and visually impaired children have dreams and aspirations for their future just as sighted children,” stated John Goodwin, C.E.O. of The LEGO® Foundation. “They have the same desire and need to explore the world and socialise through play, but often face involuntary isolation as a consequence of exclusion from activities. In the LEGO Foundation, we believe children learn best through play and in turn develop the breadth of skills, such as creativity, collaboration and communication, that they need in the post 4th Industrial Revolution. With this project, we are bringing a playful and inclusive approach to learning Braille to children. I hope children, parents, caregivers, teachers and practitioners worldwide will be as excited as we are, and we can’t wait to see the positive impact.”[1]

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_adult-and-child_1

Figure 1 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This picture, taken on March 19, 2019, shows New College Worcester I.T. teacher Sean Randall and a schoolgirl playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks somewhere in Worcestershire, England.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_boxFigure 2 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is a LEGO® Braille Bricks box.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_child_1Figure 3 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is a schoolboy in Worcestershire playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks on March 19, 2019.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_child_2Figure 4 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is another view of the same schoolboy playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks on March 19, 2019.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_child_3Figure 5 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is another schoolboy playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks on March 19, 2019.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_children_1Figure 6 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: These are schoolgirls playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks on March 19, 2019.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_close-up_3Figure 7 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is how LEGO® Braille Bricks look up close.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_close-up_4Figure 8 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: LEGO® Braille Bricks are compatible with standard LEGO® baseplates.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks_looseFigure 9 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: These are loose LEGO® Braille Bricks.  This is another view of how LEGO® Braille Bricks look up close.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks-close-up_1Figure 10 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This is a close up of an adult and a child playing with LEGO® Braille Bricks.

HighRes_Braille-Bricks-close-up_2Figure 11 Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: These are LEGO® Braille Bricks LEGO® baseplate.

Credit: The LEGO® Group and The LEGO® Foundation Caption: This video is a short promotional film that shows faculty and students at New College Worcester explain how LEGO® Braille Bricks are a powerful (Braille) literacy tool for visually impaired students and depicts students playing with the bricks.

 

 

[1] Goodwin did not misspell socialize, he used the British spelling of the word.

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