There is a serious illiteracy crisis among the American (and worldwide) blind. Less than 10% of the 1.3 million legally blind Americans is proficient in braille, and a similarly low number of blind children are learning it. Source Among other factors, this contributes to enormous unemployment rates and learning struggles among blind.
The alphabet block: a humble, ubiquitous toy with a rich history stretching back to 1693. Long recognized as a source of development of both motor and language skills in children, its potential has little been applied to the braille crisis.
Our Braille Alphabet Blocks take on the aesthetic of a classic wooden block and display on 2 sides each: standard size English braille, jumbo braille (for beginning learners), and capital letters in a simple, tactile font. This configuration acommodates a variety of learning styles as well as assistance from both seeing and blind family members and teachers.
This project fits the Hope3D mission and strategy well. The blocks are small, easy prints that are easy to produce and distribute. An entire 26-letter set easily fits on an 8-inch build plate.
With the advent of Project Vision, Hope3D has already recognized the visually impaired as a key group that can be helped greatly with the aid of consumer 3D printing. I propose the Braille Alphabet Blocks to be a "Phase Zero," taking a step back from the current braille-based learning aids to focus on enabling literacy at a very young age (thus widening the effectiveness of those subsequent tools).
This project is still under development as I continue to improve functionality and aesthetics. As of yet, not all 26 letters are published but I'm in the process of completing the set, a process which will certainly be expedited should Hope3D be interested in partnering with me. A number of variations-- such as options for dual/multi-extruder or single-extruder, snap together printing-- are in the works.
Orientation actually proved to be an interesting issue. Unlike a sign or a book, these cubes themselves have no set direction and the single letters offer no context clues as to the rotation. The simple, and I believe effective, solution to this is to place a small line on the bottom side of all the braille letters. This is consistent with the usage on game tiles and the like.
Admittedly, braille learning aids (even in the form of alphabet blocks) are far from a new invention. However, they come with disadvantages:
- Pocket braille cubes can display all dot combinations, but are hard to learn with and provide no enjoyment to children.
- Other alphabet cubes don't provide the same feel as other braille and cost over 10 times as much as 3D printed ones.
- LEGO is launching a new set of braille bricks compatible with their popular building system. In addition to similar issues with cost and feel, these blocks aren't even available yet.
- User @2_45_Schools_Over's braille alphabet learner (designed for this same competition) again lacks the fun required for a younger audience and demonstrates more potential for older students interested in rote learning.
Warning: These cubes pose a potential choking hazard. Exercise caution when giving them to children under the age of three.
PLA is a non-toxic plastic that should pose little chemical risk with occasional mouth contact. Make sure any paints, markers or sealants used are child-safe.
- V1.11, 5/6/19- Uploaded letters D-M.
- V1.1, 3/31/19- Added filleted corners to prevent cuts. Thinner font used for clearer feel on charcter apertures.