Lego launches Braille bricks to help blind and visually impaired children learn in a "playful and engaging way"
Lego is set to release a new project aimed at helping blind and visually impaired children learn Braille in a "playful and engaging way." Called Lego Braille Bricks, it will allow children to learn the touch writing system -- whose use has reportedly been in decline -- through play.
According to a press release from Lego, the bricks will fully launch in 2020 and feature the studs used for characters in the Braille alphabet, as well as printed characters that will allow sighted people decipher what is written on them.
While still in the prototype stages, the final set will compromise of approximately 250 bricks that cover the Braille alphabet, numbers from zero to nine, math symbols, and what has been described as "inspiration for teaching and interactive games."
They will be "fully compatible" with existing Lego bricks and are currently undergoing testing in schools in multiple languages, including Portuguese, Danish, English, and Norwegian, with the Spanish, German, and French versions scheduled to be tested later this year.
It was an idea originally proposed to the Lego Foundation by two charities — The Danish Association of the Blind in 2011, and then again by Brazil's Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind in 2017.
A spokesperson for Lego Foundation confirmed that the company had developed prototypes with both organizations, as well as British charities Leonard Cheshire and Royal Institute of Blind People, and Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted. The finalized version will be distributed free of charge to institutions through these partner organizations, they confirmed.
The move has been hailed as one that would help improve Braille literacy at a time when its importance has diminished. Philippe Chazal, the treasurer of the European Blind Union, said in a statement, "With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read Braille. 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," he added.
A 2009 study from the National Federation of the Blind and reported that only 10% of visually impaired children in the US are now learning to read Braille. That number is even smaller is England, where the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) found that out of an estimated 21,000 visually-impaired children in the country, just 1,077 are learning Braille.
David Clarke, the director of services at RNIB, has little doubt that the Lego Braille Bricks will "improve education for children with vision impairment and encourage inclusion." He said, "Thanks to this innovation, children with vision impairment will be able to learn braille and interact with their friends and classmates in a fun way, using play to encourage creativity while learning to read and write."