A couple of years ago, design agency Lew’LaraTBWA created a set of Lego-like bricks that used the plastic stubs to recreate the patterns that make up the braille alphabet. It was such a clever way to help encourage blind or visually impaired children to learn braille that Lego is officially releasing its own Braille Bricks collection.
Lego acknowledges that Brazil’s Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, who spearheaded the initiative from a few years ago (it’s still available under a Creative Commons license), officially proposed the idea to the toymaker back in 2017. Since then Lego has worked with blind associations in Denmark, the UK, Norway, and Brazil to realise an official version of the product.
Prototypes of the Braille Bricks sets, which feature around 250 bricks representing the alphabet, the numbers zero to nine, and select mathematical symbols, are currently being tested in English, Danish, Norwegian, and Portuguese languages. But later this year French, Spanish, and German versions will also be tested, ahead of an official 2020 launch for the product. However, you won’t be able to walk into toy stores to find them, they’re only being made available to select institutions devoted to assisting the blind and visually impaired, and they will be distributed free of charge.
If you remember how much fun learning about chemistry was when the teacher brought out those building sets that let you assemble molecules using tiny balls and springs, you can understand why this approach to learning braille could potentially make it much easier for children. It’s also easier to correct mistakes. A braille writer is typically used to create bumps on paper that can’t really be erased. But Braille Bricks are assembled on a Lego baseplate, so re-arranging letters and numbers is as easy as rebuilding a Lego structure.
The next step for Lego would be to find a way to officially make all of its building sets accessible to blind or visually impaired builders. The toy bricks themselves are relatively easy to distinguish using just the sense of touch – it’s the instruction manuals, which almost exclusively rely on flat imagery, that pose the bigger challenge. There have been a few attempts made to make Lego sets more accessible, including a blind high school student who helped develop a special notation that would painstakingly explain the next piece needed, its orientation, and where it needed to go on the overall build. But unfortunately, those special instructions were only made available for a handful of sets, and not Lego entire catalogue just yet.