Lego is releasing a new product to help blind and visually impaired children learn Braille, the company announced Wednesday. The "playful and engaging" bricks will be inclusive to allow sighted teachers, students and family members to use the bricks together.
The Lego Foundation is piloting the program, which features the new product called Lego Braille Bricks. Each brick represents a different Braille letter or number and is designed to be used by all children, not just those who are visually impaired. The bricks will also feature printed characters to allow sighted people to read them.
According to a press release, the new bricks will be "fully compatible" with existing Lego bricks. The set will include about 250 bricks featuring the complete Braille alphabet, as well as some numbers and math symbols. It will also come with "inspiration for teaching and interactive games."
Braille bricks are currently being tested in Danish, Norwegian, English and Portuguese — the company is testing German, Spanish and French later this year. Lego expects them to become widely available in 2020, and they will be given for free to select institutions around the world.
"With thousands of audiobooks and computer programs now available, fewer kids are learning to read Braille," said Philippe Chazal, Treasurer of the European Blind Union. "This is particularly critical when we know that Braille users often are more independent, have a higher level of education and better employment opportunities. We strongly believe LEGO Braille Bricks can help boost the level of interest in learning Braille, so we're thrilled that the LEGO Foundation is making it possible to further this concept and bring it to children around the world."
The concept was first proposed in 2011 by the Danish Association of the Blind, and again in 2017 by the Brazil-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind. Since then, associations from Denmark, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Norway have collaborated to bring the project to life.
"Blind and visually impaired children have dreams and aspirations for their future just as sighted children" said John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation. "They have the same desire and need to explore the world and socialise through play, but often face involuntary isolation as a consequence of exclusion from activities...I hope children, parents, caregivers, teachers and practitioners worldwide will be as excited as we are, and we can't wait to see the positive impact."