More than just a construction game, LEGO has introduced its new Braille Bricks, a toy designed to increase literacy in blind and partially sighted children. Each of the colourful blocks is moulded into a letter, number, or punctuation mark of the braille writing system.
In many ways, LEGO and braille are a match made in heaven. A basic LEGO block is a rectangle topped with six raised dots in a 3 x 2 pattern.
Dreamed up by the blind community itself, Braille Bricks, which spent two years in testing, were pitched to the LEGO Foundation (the charitable arm of the LEGO Group) by the Danish Association of the Blind in 2011, the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind in Brazil made their own prototype in 2017.
With the uptake of technologies like audiobooks and screen-readers, which recite the text displayed on a computer or smartphone screen, braille literacy has declined, and advocates say that auditory reading methods should complement braille, not replace it.
“For blind people, braille is literacy,” explained Sean Randall, an IT instructor at New College Worcester, a school for the blind in the UK. Randall is himself blind.
“The only other real option for someone who’s got no sight is to listen, and by listening, you lose a lot of spelling, grammar, punctuation.”
Guided play is an effective teaching tool for primary-aged students because most children learn best when they are actively engaged, interacting with others, and see meaning in what they’re doing. LEGO’s Braille Bricks can be used for play-based education in phonetics, spelling, and mathematics. For younger children who aren’t yet ready to read, the blocks encourage the development of motor coordination and tactile skills.
Each brick is also marked with the corresponding printed letter, number, or symbol so that blind and sighted children can enjoy them together and the bricks are fully compatible with LEGO’s standard bricks, creating even more opportunities for imaginative play.
LEGO has announced that the new educational toy will be available in twenty countries by the end of 2021.