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LEGO’s Commitment to Learning Through Play for the Visually Impaired

Courtesy of The Lego Group via YouTube – Closed Captioning Available

Staying true to their commitment of re-defining play and re-imagining learning, the LEGO Foundation and LEGO Group are taking steps to ensure that LEGOs can be experienced by all children, especially those who are visually impaired.

In August, LEGO debuted its first audio and Braille building instructions, a free service that gives visually impaired people a new way to build. The instructions were inspired by Matthew Shifrin, a blind LEGO fan from Massachusetts, who with the help of his babysitter, Lilya Finkel, developed their own project to make LEGO instructions accessible to him and other blind children.

On Shifrin’s thirteenth birthday, Finkel gifted him the 821 piece “Prince of Persia Battle of Alamut” LEGO set, but didn’t stop there. She invented a unique name for each LEGO piece in the set, and spent hours creating a binder full of building instructions in Braille that detailed how to fit each piece together.

That was the first time Shifrin was able to complete a Lego build from start to finish without any help.

This single binder led to a website with instructions for 45 other Lego sets, called “Lego for the Blind.” The website then lead to Finkel typing up instructions on the computer and Shifrin listening to them and following along with his screen reader to test their accuracy. This finally lead to the LEGO Creative Play Lab adapting their system and offering it online, for free as well.

Currently, four different LEGO sets offer these instructions through audio or Braille, which can be translated by a Braille reader, with more to come.

This is just the first step in LEGOs commitment to making their products accessible to children of all abilities.

Motivated by stories like Shifrin’s, the LEGO Foundation and LEGO Group is launching LEGO Braille Bricks in 2020, to bring a playful and inclusive approach to teaching Braille to children.

With assistive technologies, audiobooks and computer programs available for the visually impaired, fewer children are learning how to read Braille. In the United States, the National Federation for the Blind reports that only 10% of blind children are learning how to read Braille, compared to over 50% in the 1950s. 

“In the LEGO Foundation, we believe children learn best through play and in turn develop the breadth of skills, such as creativity, collaboration and communication, that they need in the post 4th Industrial Revolution,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the Lego Foundation. “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.”