The LEGO Group has announced a test phase for new instructions designed for users with visual impairments.
While those who can see might take LEGO instructions for granted, those with a visual impairment have not had much choice in how they build LEGO sets – generally, they have needed helped. Now, inspired by blind entrepreneur Matthew Shifrin, the LEGO Group is trialling new LEGO Audio & Braille Building Instructions.
Born blind, Matthew was a passionate fan LEGO fan whose friend designed special text-based instructions for him that he could read in Braille. It allowed him to build independently for the first time, putting together 10234 Sydney Opera House and 10214 Tower bridge in this way.
“I had a friend, Lilya, who would write down all the building steps for me so that I could upload them into a system that allowed me to read the building steps on a Braille reader through my fingers. She learned Braille to engage with me and support my LEGO passion, and then spent countless hours translating LEGO instructions into Braille,” Matthew explained.
“This is extremely important for blind children because there aren’t a lot of places where we can say, ‘Look Mom and Dad! I built this on my own… I did this’. For blind children, we don’t have access to what sighted kids are used to. LEGO bricks enable us to learn about our environment, to see the world. It is so important because blind kids get left out of a lot of social stuff, especially in elementary school. But LEGO building is one of the things we can do.”
Lilya passed away two years ago, leading to Matthew’s determination to share her concept for LEGO instructions for visually impaired people. He knew someone at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, who put him in touch with the LEGO Creative Play Lab.
Working with the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial, the LEGO Group developed artificially intelligent software to translate LXFML data (LEGO Exchange Format Mel Script) that is used for traditional instructions into text based instructions that can be translated into Braille and audio directions. The project has been funded by the LEGO Foundation.
“Matthew’s story demonstrates the power of LEGO play. It brings people together, helps to build confidence and sparks creativity. It has been an honour to work with Matthew, his passion and energy are truly inspiring. But most importantly his project will help visually impaired children around the world experience the same joy of building and pride of creation that all our fans feel,” said Fenella Blaize Charity, Creative Director, LEGO Group.
Anyone looking to use the four sets of instructions that have been developed for the test phase can visit www.legoaudioinstructions.com. The instructions there can be followed using the English language audio or use a Braille reader. Following consumer feedback, more instructions are due to be added next year.
These are the four sets included for the pilot phase:
A mission statement from Matthew has been shared by the LEGO Group alongside this announcement:
As I build a set I develop a better sense of what a building looks like and how it is laid out and constructed. For blind people LEGO sets act as miniature 3D substitutes for real-life buildings in lieu of two-dimensional photographs. LEGO bricks allow me to see things that are impossible to explore by touch, such as the arches of a Middle Eastern palace or the towers of the London Tower Bridge.
I would like to get my instructions out to the blind community. I would like every blind person to be able to download the instructions, buy a set, have a sighted person sort the pieces, and feel on par with a sighted builder. I want every blind person to feel that the once impossible is now possible; that he or she can now build a miniature LEGO world.