Enhanced Reading for Blind in Latvia: Mass Portal Teams with Tactile Eyesight & Students for 3D Printed Books

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UntitledMany of us have been avid readers since we learned to string letters together and manipulate them into formal language. From sandy paperbacks at the beach to beautifully bound classics in the library—to the cereal box—many of us just soak it all in, consuming information of all sorts on a continual basis. We often do so without a thought, and while hopefully we are all lucky on many counts, eyesight and the ability to read, write, and communicate easily and instantly may be one of those constants we most often take for granted.

Along with the ability to see comes appreciation of the power of the printed word accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Often stories and visuals are works of art all by themselves—books that take us away—magically transporting us to other places with exotic people, animals, and places. Can you imagine missing out on that experience, perhaps for a lifetime?

12250081_923599254376143_5775938529026877325_nAnd with hundreds of millions of people unable to see or enjoy the enchantment of reading, the teams from Mass Portal and Tactile Eyesight felt, rightly so, that it was time to find an easier way to bring books to the blind. We’ve seen numerous instances where this Latvian company was involved in some fantastic projects, following them since they began introducing their Pharoah Delta 3D printer by building an onroad scooter to showing off an incredible Iron Man helmet or even better, helping an injured stork with 3D printed leg braces.

Now, tackling the issue of helping the blind to enjoy Braille for greater discovery of both the fictional and non-fictional world, Tactile Eyesight and Mass Portal are working together in another project to make tactile books. This time, visually impaired readers will find Braille on one side, and a 3D printed relief drawing on the other, offering a comprehensive way to enjoy a book and, more importantly, a story.

What makes this project stand out is the considerable ease with which these 3D printed books are produced in comparison with lengthy traditional, often handmade, methods. Blind children have a much easier time learning new concepts, along with enjoying Braille typeface in the Latvian language. And even more exciting for those involved or becoming interested is that the book has been open-sourced by the author, Aigars Vilcāns.

8d629750-3a35-47b9-9759-2547ae13a4e9While the production methods may be easier, still great time, effort, and cooperation have gone into the projects, separating them by book titles. The first book that the teams chose to work together on prototyping was Missing Monkey. With a title that just invokes curiosity, the teams worked to make the contents just as exciting—and readable. Missing Monkey is from the popular Luīzes Pastores Art detective book series, which is very appealing to kids.

For three weeks, the Mass Portal team hosted three students from Lithuania, and in that time they were also able to organize a meeting through Tactile Eyesight so that the students could attend a meeting at the Latvian Society of the Blind.

At the meeting, with the work ahead in mind, they were able to learn about the actual history of tactile books, as well as Braille. Everyone was able to learn more about the project process, along with plans for future illustrations as well.

These talented and tech-savvy students from Lithuania had one major priority though, and that pertained to the 3D aspects of the book. With the assignment being to ‘build illustration 3D terrain models’ using Sketchup and then 3D print the prototypes, they had some rather fun work cut out for them. It was important for them to achieve finely detailed 3D images in order to heighten the process for their eventual readers.


“It was the first time they worked with SketchUp and 3D printers, but they did good work and are very proud and pleased about this opportunity,” stated the Mass Portal team in a recent press release.

All generated drawings will be used for further exploration at Strazdumuiža Residental Secondary School and Training Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where children and young people will examine them.

569a58ca-5555-4d33-9c40-87cf2392363f”Books are alive. [They are a] symbol of human development and cultural grandeur. Book illustrations are very important for young children. Looking at the pictures, a child learns new words and concepts. They are aware of the world around them,” said Mass Portal marketing manager Inga Žilinska.


“[It’s the] same experience for children with visual impairments when they are provided with tangible three dimensional images. Its a real pleasure to be part of this process for every one of us, enabling children and young people to integrate into society by showing them yet unseen and unfamiliar world wonders that we seem to find self-evident. Engaging in this project implementation we each took home a small piece of the blind peoples’ world.”

As the teams work meticulously to make the books great, the project has taken longer than they originally expected. With expert assistance, however, the two teams are on their way to some excellent tactile book making, on their way to expanding this new and valuable 3D inventory for the visually impaired in their country. Discuss in the 3D Printed Tactile Books forum over at 3DPB.com.

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