At the Sustainable Brands conference in Paris last month, the LEGO Foundation and LEGO Group announced their new project to help blind and visually impaired children learn braille through custom LEGO Braille Bricks.
The idea, first proposed by the Danish Association of the Blind in 2011, was brought up again in 2017 by Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind in Brazil, and later developed in collaboration with blind associations in Denmark, Brazil, the UK, and Norway.
Why now? Philippe Chazal, Treasurer of the European Blind Union, cites the rise of audio books and computer programs. As a result, he claims “fewer kids are learning to read braille.”
“We strongly believe LEGO Braille Bricks can help boost the level of interest in learning braille,” he continued. In the United States, only 10% of blind children are learning to read braille, even though according to Chazal, “Braille users often are more independent, have a higher level of education, and better employment opportunities.”
WHO estimates that 19 million children around the world are vision impaired and 1.4 million of these children have irreversible blindness.
The statistics when they grow up look discouraging: In Europe, around three quarters of adults with vision disability are unemployed, compared to 53% with general disabilities.
The LEGO Braille Bricks will be fully compatible with the LEGO System in Play and use the same number of studs for individual letters and numbers in the braille alphabet.
The bricks aren’t just meant for braille learners. For teachers and sighted children, these bricks also feature a printed letter or character, so everyone can join in the fun.
The set contains about 250 Braille Bricks covering the full alphabet, numbers 0-9, and math symbols.
The product is currently being tested in various languages too: Danish, Norwegian, English, and Portuguese, with German, Spanish, and French testing to begin in the third quarter of this year.
The final LEGO Braille Bricks kit is expected to launch in 2020 and will be distributed free of charge to institutions in LEGO’s partner networks.