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  • Select Lego Playsets Have Instructions in Braille and Audio for Blind Kids

    A young entrepreneur, who was born blind, was the brains behind Lego's newest project.
    by Kate Borbon .
Select Lego Playsets Have Instructions in Braille and Audio for Blind Kids
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Lego bricks are undoubtedly a favorite among children and even adults. These allow children to exercise their creativity while they are playing and build unique structures, from Lego people to miniature buildings and vehicles. But i is not the kind of toy for blind kids because, for one thing, its building instructions have always been provided in visual form.

    However, last August 28, 2019, LEGO announced a new initiative called LEGO Audio & Braille Building Instructions that will allow blind children to have fun building Lego structures by themselves. The directions for constructing Lego structures can come in either audio recordings or in Braille, instead of the traditional visual aid.

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    The initiative was started by an entrepreneur named Matthew Shifrin, who was born blind. Growing up, Shifrin deeply enjoyed playing with Lego, but he always required another person’s assistance.

    A childhood friend named Lilya helped Shifrin build his LEGO creations. In a press release, Shifrin shared that Lilya learned Braille to translate Lego instructions, so he would know what to do. It was her idea to create Lego building instructions for individuals who were blind or had limited sight. When she passed away in 2017, Shifrin decided to honor her by bringing her vision to life.

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    Through a friend at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Shifrin approached the Creative Play Lab at the Lego Group. Their team took his idea to the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which developed AI technology to translate data from the original visual building instructions into Braille and voice-commanded instructions.

    “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,’” Shifrin stated in the press release. “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.”

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    Fenella Blaize Charity, Lego Group creative director, shared, “Matthew’s story demonstrates the power of Lego play. It brings people together, helps to build confidence and sparks creativity. It has been an honor 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.”

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    Romper reports that, at the moment, an initial pilot rollout for the audio and Braille building instructions are already available for four playsets, namely:

    • 11001 LEGO Bricks and Ideas LEGO Classic
    • 41365 LEGO Friends Emma’s Art Shop
    • 60207 LEGO City Sky Police Drone Chase
    • 70821 The LEGO Movie 2 Emmet and Benny’s ‘Build and Fix’ Workshop!

    The pilot phase will last until December 31, 2019, after which LEGO aims to launch more audio & Braille instructions in the first half of 2020.

    Aside from the audio and Braille building instructions, LEGO also announced a few months ago that it is planning on launching Braille Lego bricks, which will have studs with the same six-dot configuration as the individual letters and numbers from the Braille alphabet and which will be available commercially in 2020. This initiative aims to encourage more blind children to learn how to read Braille.

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    With its continued efforts toward inclusivity, we’re sure children and parents are even more excited to play with Legos at home!

    To learn more about some common vision and eyesight problems experienced by children, click here.

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