Braille system was established by Louis braille as early as in 1824. It was an excellent idea where visually impaired people could read by feeling the dots embossed on a paper. But, what about pictures? What if one wanted to create an image in the minds of visually impaired children along with the texts written in braille. Well, modern technology has its answer, with the help of a 3-D printer. The University of Colorado has a team of researchers working on a project where they print the classic children’s picture books on plastic with the help of a 3-D printer. They can touch and feel the images as the story is read to them.
Catering to the Visually Impaired
Tom Yeh, is the director of tactile Picture Books project, he is also the assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado. He says he realised that he could do something meaningful using mathematical diagrams in children’s picture books. He said that the project turned out to be harder than he thought but much more satisfying too. Anchor Center is an organisation that is dedicated to the education of visually impaired children. They have partnered up with the project in the creation of tactile books. The CEO of Anchor Center, Alice Applebaum, says that they have always created textured books for visually impaired children and also tactile books but with traditional craft method. She says it’s just like reading, but we do it with eyes, and they use their senses.
Visually impaired children are not able to read braille until six years, so tactile books can help them to start reading the children’s books at an early age. This technology will help in providing literacy to the visually impaired children, says Alice. The researchers have created an algorithm which converts images to 3-D books. So that parents and teachers of children could send a picture of a children’s book to 3-D printer and get a tactile book for the same. The idea is to make the process simple; every child has a unique impairment and hence unique requirement. The researchers are trying to make a program which is built with the needs of parents in mind.
Abigale Stangl, a researcher from ATLAS at the University of Colorado, says that feedback from the parents through Anchor is vital for this project. They are trying to make this project as accessible to the parents as possible. Several interfaces exist for designing 3-D books like Google SketchUp, but not many can become parents friendly. The main aim of the project is to make it accessible to the parents to design a 3-D book of any image they want. Researchers hope that they could send the algorithm to the parents on their website and then parents could make their own 3-D books at home. With the increasing popularity of 3-D printers and decreasing price, the success of the project seems near. Currently, the process is complicated and inaccessible. However, the project has created tactile picture books of The Cat In The Hat and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and also Goodnight Moon.