Little Braille Bricks Could Enhance Literacy for the Blind

(DGIwire) – Many people’s childhoods were made significantly more fun by playing with interlocking plastic bricks—which formed the basis of any number of impromptu and fanciful creations. Now this ubiquitous and colorful staple of youth is finding a new and more serious purpose. As recently reported in The New York Times, the toys are being harnessed in an effort to ease the challenges faced by blind students in the classroom. The newspaper relates an effort to use the bricks to help visually impaired children more naturally learn to read Braille, a system based on different configurations of six raised dots. Because the blocks will be stamped with the corresponding written letter, they can be played with by blind and sighted children alike.

“Innovative efforts to enhance the literacy, math skills and navigational skills of blind students are now coming at an impressive pace,” says Marty Schultz, is the cofounder and president of ObjectiveEd, a company that builds educational and entertainment games for the visually impaired community. “One of the most original sources of this innovation is coming from the gaming sector.”

To date, ObjectiveEd’s Blindfold Games division has released more than 80 games—available on the iPhone and iPad—that promote learning and fun. The games have been enjoyed by more than 25,000 visually impaired people from 7 to 70 years old, and recently surpassed half a million downloads. One racing game from Blindfold Games, for example, is designed so that players use their ears instead of eyes to navigate a racing course, avoiding crashing into fences or animals crossing the street. Meanwhile, a hopping game involves navigating one’s way across a river by maneuvering over lily pads whose sounds drift from right to left (when the lily pad sound is heard in both ears, it is safe to jump). Other directional games include a barnyard game in which the player herds animals in various ways, teaching the concept of cardinal directions and spatial concepts.

Other Blindfold Games that have been developed for the visually impaired community—such as hangman, solitaire, and spin-and-solve—are designed to build vocabulary and strategy skills enjoyed by sighted players of the traditional versions of these games. Further games involve conceptualizing a two-dimensional or three-dimensional grid. For example, a bowling game uses a triangular grid to encourage the player’s construction of a mental map of the pins’ layout.

Meanwhile, ObjectiveEd provides Core and Expanded Core Curriculum games for individuals with visual impairments. Its games help students learn the skills required to meet the goals and objectives of their Individual Education Plan (IEP). Each game is individually tuned to meet the unique needs of the student, and all members of the IEP team—teachers, therapists, specialists and parents—are able to monitor the student’s progress.

“Gamification is proving to be a godsend for those who are concerned about the ability of blind students to keep pace in the digital classrooms of the 21st century,” Schultz adds.