Learning to read Braille increases the likelihood of a visually impaired person’s finding employment or pursuing higher education by more than three times. Unfortunately, many resources for learning Braille are either ineffective or too costly for the average person. A digital Braille reading device costs over $1,000, which is unaffordable for many, particularly for the 90% of the visually impaired population living in developing countries. Instead, these people often receive very basic, outdated learning material that’s largely ineffective.
3D printing lends itself well to Braille, as has been shown through projects like 3D printed Braille Rubik’s cubes and chess sets. Now a new 3D printed puzzle has been developed, and it’s designed to help the user learn how to read Braille. Fittle was designed through a collaboration between Indian designer Tania Jain, India’s leading eye institute LVPEI, German educational toy company Ravensburger, and independent global communication group Serviceplan.
Each puzzle is divided into pieces, with a Braille letter on each piece. Together, they spell out the name of an object. Connecting marks on each piece help the user figure out how they fit together, and once complete, they can feel the shape of the object and learn the Braille word for it. Originally, the design team made the puzzles out of wood, but they realized they needed something lower-cost and so turned to 3D printing. With support from Novabeans, they decided to go with the Ultimaker 2+ for its quality, usability and price. They had tried both larger and cheaper 3D printers, but the large printers were too expensive while the budget printers could not deliver the durability and accuracy they needed.
The Fitttle pieces are 3D printed with a hollow design to minimize material usage. 3D printing also lowered the cost of prototyping so that the team could get feedback from the visually impaired community.
There are now multiple Fittle shapes, which are 3D printed and distributed across India. The puzzles are given to LVPEI’s regional centers, which pass them on to Braille learners. Users can learn how to spell things such as ‘fish,’ ‘mouse,’ ‘ship,’ ‘rocket’ and many other words; Fittle is continuously developing new shapes and plans to introduce more of them in the future.
“Feedback has been overwhelming so far,” said Christoph Bohlender, Creative Director at Serviceplan Health and Life. “More and more children are learning braille better with Fittle.”
$10,000 buys four digital Braille readers or 200 Braille books – or 16,000 3D printed puzzles plus a 3D printer. Fittle’s future goals include funding more 3D printers, creating new shapes, distributing more puzzles, and ultimately expanding to other regions. The puzzles have also been made open source for download from Fittle’s website.
3D printing has played a major role in improving the lives of the visually impaired, being used to create such things as tactile maps and tactile books, as well as learning tools. It isn’t easy to get around in the world without sight, but many thoughtful and inventive people have used technology to make it a little bit easier.
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