Richard Frank Tunley works on a game for the visually impaired.

Richard Frank Tunley made blinds for a living – but as he told his family, he lived for the blind. The Queensland man dedicated his life to working with and helping visually impaired children and adults. He was especially devoted to making sure that blind children had the same educational opportunities as everyone else. He worked to have educational material sent, free of charge, to schools for the blind around the world, and he created a great deal of material himself, including Braille maps and globes.

Known as the Fairy Godfather of Blind Children, Tunley also crafted doll houses, games and other toys for visually impaired children, working with kids at a special school in Queensland up until he died in 1968. In the 1950s, he created a special globe, with raised continents and countries made from metal plates. Locations were labeled in Braille, also made from metal plates. The plates were attached to a wooden sphere, creating a wood and metal globe that allowed visually impaired people to get a sense of the geography of the world for the first time.

The globe, known as the Tunley globe, is still in existence, although it’s very fragile. But thanks to the Queensland Library Foundation, a small organization working out of the State Library of Queensland (SLQ), people will be able to hold and touch the globe again, using their fingers to read the names of countries and continents, oceans and seas.

The Queensland Library Foundation holds an annual Crowd Giving event in which it funds a worthy project, and recently the Foundation gathered to decide which project would be the recipient of this year’s $10,000. Three projects were presented at the meeting, and it was decided that the funds would go to an effort to reproduce the globe using 3D printing. The globe has been 3D scanned using photogrammetry, and the replica will be 3D printed and put on display where it can be touched and handled. Detailed digital plans and learning notes will also be available.

Some of the funding will also go towards preserving the original globe, which will be put on display at an SLQ exhibit in December. Until now, it has been in storage at the Braille House in Annerley.

“The Tunley globe is a truly remarkable creation and a unique, perhaps unknown, Queensland story,” said State Librarian and SLQ CEO Vicki McDonald. “SLQ is immensely grateful to the donors who have put their money behind making this fascinating piece of Queensland history discoverable and accessible for a new generation of Queenslanders. A donation to Queensland Library Foundation directly supports State Library of Queensland’s important and valued work and will help impact the growth of knowledge and innovation in our state.”

The reproduction of the globe won’t be an exact replica, as it will be made from plastic instead of wood and metal, but the lines and shapes of Tunley’s work will be the same. 3D printing is a technology that lends itself perfectly to the creation of Braille and other tactile tools, as it can quickly produce three-dimensional, perfectly formed shapes from two-dimensional images. It has been used more than once to help the visually impaired find their way, whether it’s around a college campus or around the world, as Tunley’s globe does. Tunley built his globe through careful handiwork, long before 3D printing existed, but 3D printing will allow many more people to experience that work up close.


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[Source/Images: State Library of Queensland]

 

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