Recently, Lego unveiled a prototype of new “Braille bricks” at the Sustainable Brands Conference in Paris.
Legos have six raised dots made out of plastic. Likewise, the Braille alphabet is made of different configurations of up to six raised dots in a 3-by-2 formation punched into paper.
According to the press release, the idea for the bricks was first raised by the Danish Association of the Blind in 2011 and the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind in Brazil, which created its own version of Braille Bricks in 2017. Working with associations for the blind in the UK, Denmark, Norway and Brazil, Lego refined and began testing the concept earlier this year.
The 250-brick set includes all Braille letters and numerals, along with mathematical symbols and punctuation marks. Each brick has the corresponding printed letter or character stamped on it so sighted teachers or students can follow along. The bricks are compatible with non-Braille Legos as well.
Currently, Lego has developed sets covering Danish, English, Norwegian and Portuguese, but will also have French, German and Spanish versions ready to launch by 2020.
The Lego Foundation is expected to give the sets to organizations serving the blind and visually impaired who will pass them along to interested clients.
In 1960, about 50 percent of blind children in the United States learned to read Braille. With the advent of audiobooks and other media, that figure has dropped. According to the American Printing House for the Blind which conducts an annual survey on Braille literacy, only 8.4 percent of blind or visually impaired children between that age of 4 and 21 read Braille.
“With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read Braille,” Philippe Chazal, Treasurer of the European Blind Union, says in the release. “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.”
According to a report by the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), as of 2009 fewer than 10 percent of blind and visually impaired individuals were being taught the braille system, 70 percent of whom are unemployed in the US, the NFB reports. About 40 to 50 percent of blind students drop out of high school. The hope is that the Braille bricks will get children interested in learning Braille and inspire more teachers to learn how to teach the system and hopefully improve their educational attainment and employment prospects.