The LEGO Group and the LEGO Foundation are launching a grassroots innovation to help blind and visually-impaired children learn through play.
LEGO Braille Bricks will combine the tactile nature of the Braille alphabet with LEGO studs, helping children to learn Braille while still being compatible with regular LEGO bricks. The project will be formally announced today at the Sustainable Brands Conference in Paris, France.
The Danish Association of the Blind first pitched the idea to the LEGO Foundation in 2011, before the Brazilian-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind did so again in 2017. Since then, both those organisations – along with others from the UK and Norway – have been involved in shaping and testing the concept.
“With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read Braille,” said Philippe Chazal, Treasurer of the European Blind Union. “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 the World Health Organisation, around 19 million children worldwide are visually impaired, with around 1.4 million experiencing irreversible blindness. However, just 10% of blind children in the USA are learning to read Braille, compared with more than 50% in the 1950s. Thankfully, this trend is beginning to reverse – something the LEGO Foundation is hoping to accelerate with its bricks.
“Experiencing reactions from both students and teachers to LEGO Braille Bricks has been hugely inspirational and reminded me that the only limitations I will meet in life are those I create in my mind,” said LEGO Group Senior Art Director Morten Bonde, who suffers from a genetic eye disorder that means he’s gradually losing his sight.
“The children’s level of engagement and their interest in being independent and included on equal terms in society is so evident. I am moved to see the impact this product has on developing blind and visually impaired children’s academic confidence and curiosity already in its infant days.”
The LEGO Braille Bricks will also feature printed letters and numbers, in order to ensure that sighted students, teachers and family members can also interact with them, even if they don’t know Braille. They’re currently being tested in English, Danish, Norwegian and Portuguese, with German, Spanish and French tests getting underway in the third quarter of 2019.
The first LEGO Braille Bricks kits are expected to roll out in 2020, each containing 250 bricks to cover the entire Braille alphabet, numbers zero to nine, maths symbols and even inspiration for interactive games. They’ll be distributed free of charge to select partners and institutions in the markets where testing is currently underway.
“Blind and visually impaired children have dreams and aspirations for their future just as sighted children,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation. “They have the same desire and need to explore the world and socialise through play, but often face involuntary isolation as a consequence of exclusion from activities.
“In the LEGO Foundation, we believe children learn best through play and in turn develop the breadth of skills, such as creativity, collaboration and communication, that they need in the post 4th Industrial Revolution. With this project, we are bringing a playful and inclusive approach to learning Braille to children.
“I hope children, parents, caregivers, teachers and practitioners worldwide will be as excited as we are, and we can’t wait to see the positive impact.”