Health and Healthcare Systems

This is how Lego braille bricks are helping vision-impaired children to read, learn and play

Many vision-impaired people make use of braille, a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers. But it’s not just found on paper and in books.

Many vision-impaired people make use of braille, a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers. But it’s not just found on paper and in books. Image: Unsplash/kellysikkema

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Lego has launched its Braille Bricks, a 300-piece set with studs arranged to correspond to the numbers and letters in the braille system, making it more accessible for vision-impaired children.
  • Globally, 1 billion people have vision impairment that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed, according to the World Health Organization.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook aims to “diminish the barriers at play across healthcare systems”, one of which is innovation in science and medicine.

Dealing with a brain tumour is a lot for a child, but imagine if the tumour also caused you to lose your sight.

For two children – Sacha and Olivia – that became a reality, with both losing their sight due to brain tumours.

What they also have in common is that they both make use of the braille system – but in a novel new way.

Vision impairment – a global issue

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment and in at least 1 billion of these, vision impairment could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

This matters because vision is the most dominant of our senses, says the WHO, and without it, we struggle to walk, read, learn and go about our daily lives. Learning braille is one way to bring reading and learning to those who cannot see, or struggle to see.

Rising numbers of people are vision-impaired.
Rising numbers of people are vision-impaired. Image: International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

Learning through play

Many vision-impaired people make use of braille, a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers. But it’s not just found on paper and in books. You’ll see it next to lift buttons, on medicine packaging and next to museum exhibits.

Now Lego is entering the arena with its Braille Bricks – first introduced to educators in 2020 and recently launched to the general public. It’s a set of 300-plus pieces with studs arranged on each Lego block to correspond to the numbers and letters in the braille system. Each brick also has a printed version of the corresponding symbol.

Sacha, a 16-year-old, and 7-year-old Olivia, have both found Lego Braille Bricks to be an appealing way to communicate, illustrating the significance of tactile learning for vision-impaired children. Olivia likes to leave secret coded messages for her family using the bricks, while Sacha has developed his own braille system with them.

Braille “can expand opportunities for blind and partially sighted children, giving them intellectual freedom, independence and equal access to study and work,” Lego says. “Braille opens doors for blind people to develop a wide range of skills – all of which help to build the confidence needed to pursue their dreams and aspirations in life.”

Vision and communication unlock education, help adults get and keep a job, and help people connect to their communities, which is why eye health underpins many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those relating to health.

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Widening access to healthcare

The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook identifies “a range of levers available to public and private stakeholders to diminish the barriers at play across healthcare systems”, one of which is innovation in science and medicine.

While technology is part of the answer and can be useful in offering alternative options to vision-impaired people, touchable and tactile aids have an important role to play in unlocking learning.

“For the blind community, braille is not just literacy, it’s our entry to independence and inclusion into this world,” said Martine Abel-Williamson, President of the World Blind Union. “To have Lego Braille Bricks made available for the wider public is a massive step forward to ensuring more children will want to learn braille in the first place. And because it’s based on a product that so many families already know and love, this is really an invitation for all family members to have fun building tactile skills and getting familiar with braille.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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