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Lighting The Dark with the Power Of Print

General Info February 19th 2016

3D-printing is becoming increasingly more important in the design industry. The younger generation who are visually impaired are now able to make the most of the evolving technology thanks to a team at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The team have used 3D-printing to create versions of famous books, allowing blind children to make use of the 3D images to feel and the braille to read. Similar to ourselves using images to relate to the text, the feel of the 3D-printed images help in a similar way coinciding with the reading of the braille.

“These books are customised solutions for younger readers whose needs aren’t met by conventional publishing methods”

Tom Yeh, Computer Science Professor at the University has explained that the “Tactile Picture Books Project” has been set up to “represent 2D graphics in a 3D tactile way as a scale appropriate for young children”. Keeping the younger generation in mind, the team publish the popular favourites such as “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “Noah’s Ark”. These stories allow blind children to be able to make the most of their first reading experience the same way anyone else could.

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Each page of the story is told through a combination of braille text at the bottom and a 3 dimensional accompanying image. If you were anything like me, reading almost seemed impossible without having an image! This method is a fantastic idea that allows blind children to be able to experience the same opportunity of learning the joys of literature, with the benefit of relevant pictures strengthening the story.

This project also decreases the volume of segregation and division that blind children may feel when interacting with other children. Having the same stories printed for them will make it easier for them to be able to understand and talk to the others without having to feel left out. Remarkable!

“Instead of making a model that was beautiful and interesting to a pair of eyes, I was learning to consider the needs of others in an attempt to make something useful and educational to a pair of hands”

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Caleb Hsu, the creator of the 3D-printed story “Noah’s Ark” has explained that the process of designing the stories has been a “humbling experience”. Being struck by how “deeply concerned the teachers were for the individual needs of each child”, shows how committed both the team at the university and teachers are to creating what is best for the children themselves. The good thing about the 3D-printing process is that the templates can be changed to suit the individual needs, making the process adaptable.

The stories are available to download from the Tactile Picture Books Library, allowing anyone with access to a 3D-printer to create them free of charge. Although this project has created a great opportunity for children to experience the learning process as an individual, I believe that this will take off on a larger scale, especially in schools! It’s comforting to know that people are thinking about children being able to have equal opportunities and not being made to feel like they have to be separate or different.

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