Commentary: Making Braille Affordable and Fun with Legos

Lately, developers are turning to legos to come up with new ways of making and teaching Braille. In 2014, 13 year old Shubham Banerjee created the Braigo, a light-weight and affordable Braille printer. While the printer is not actually made from Legos, Banerjee was inspired by the popular toy to create the concept. Now, designers from Lew’Lara\TBWA in Brazil have developed Braille Bricks, blocks similar to Legos with Braille letters and numbers. Besides learning the alphabet, blind children can use the blocks as toys to build things.

There’s no better time for the development of these and other innovations, which will hopefully increase the Braille literacy rate among people who are blind in the United States and elsewhere. It is estimated that only about 12 percent of children who are blind in the United States know Braille. This is a significant contrast to 50 years ago, when over 50 percent of children learned the system. While some might say that Braille is becoming obsolete with all of today’s technology innovations, I – and other advocates – are in complete disagreement. After all, it would be unacceptable if our sighted counterparts didn’t know how to read or write.

Both the Braigo printer and Braille Bricks have an enormous potential of increasing the literacy rate among blind individuals. A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the expensive nature of Braille embossers. It is expected that the new Braille printer being developed by Banerjee and his team will cost much less – around $300. I think this would greatly increase the access and affordability of these devices. As a result, more children and adults could have immediate access to Braille materials.

Currently, few toys and fun games exist for young Braille learners. Braille is typically learned by typing on a Perkins Braille writer – a machine similar to an old-fashioned typewriter but with less keys. Toys like the Braille Bricks would make learning Braille fun and exciting for children. Given that they are almost identical to Lego blocks, both children with and without sight can play together. This would promote integration and inclusion, something that should be instilled early on in life.

We are often lead to believe that technology is the only solution to today’s problems, but these two examples show us that sometimes the simplest of things can create innovative and far-reaching solutions. Both the Braigo printer and Braille Bricks can potentially change how people learn and access Braille all over the world. The low Braille literacy rate among children is an issue that should be taken seriously and which can be addressed by these new inventions. By using both old and new technologies, future generations of blind children and adults will have more access to Braille and therefore be fully integrated into society.

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