A visually impaired child sees the world through touch. Yet only a few such children come to know the joy of reading; out of the 39 million blind people around the world, only ten percent use Braille.
For blind children, learning Braille is an integral part of how they interact with the world. However, teaching Braille at a young age is a challenge. Children who are taught the word “fish” in Braille, for example, have no idea what a real fish looks like. They can feel four Braille letters that stand for F-I-S-H, but cannot even try to visualize how a fish looks.
I believe learning Braille can become a lot more fun and effective if it’s taught interactively. So with the designer Tania Jain from NID, Gandhinagar, we've created a new toy called FITTLE ("fit the puzzle") that helps children learn Braille, construct words, and understand the shapes of objects—all through playful 3D puzzles. Our aim is to transform how blind children perceive and understand the world around them. The project stemmed out of a DIY workshop organized with the Camera Culture Group of the MIT Media Lab.
The concept involves breaking down objects into as many blocks as there are letters in the word. So, the word “fish” is constructed by joining together four puzzle blocks that have the letters F-I-S-H on them, each embossed in Braille. When the visually challenged child fits together the blocks by feeling and matching the right shapes, s/he can read the word “fish” in Braille and also feel around the contours of the entire block, which is shaped like a fish.
In this way, kids can more easily comprehend the shapes of objects—and can learn them from a parent or a teacher. The possibilities are endless.
We believe FITTLE has the potential to change these children’s world. In the realm of education for the visually challenged, it's a revolution. Imagine teaching a visually impaired child that Turtle spells as T-U-R-T-L-E, and enabling them to feel the turtle in their hands as they learn the spelling. Imagine a child’s joy at feeling the form of an airplane in their hands, especially after putting together the entire airplane themselves.
We want to give all visually impaired children the resources they need to learn about the world around them. Soon, we will introduce FITTLE for each letter of the English alphabet (A for Airplane, B for Boat and so on). We are also developing a graded curriculum with input from experienced educators of visually challenged kids at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India, and plan to send some of the first FITTLE kits to schools for the visually impaired around the world.
To help make FITTLE as accessible as possible, we have put it out as open source. Anyone can download and 3D-print the FITTLE blocks at www.fittle.in.
We also want to make FITTLE even more fun, and have already designed more! In the very near future, we plan to add interactivity to the puzzles through sound. Imagine the joy of a child when s/he puts together the fish, then hears the sound of a fish jumping out and back into water. We also plan to experiment with the materials for FITTLE objects, such as rubber for the slippery texture of a fish or brushed metal for the smooth finish of an airplane. The possibilities thrill us.
To keep building FITTLE, we need your help. We have already witnessed the joy of the visually impaired kids who put together their first FITTLE at the Devnar School for the Visually Impaired in India, and we want to keep spreading that joy. Our Indiegogo campaign is raising funds for research, marketing, production, development, and shipping (plus some goodies for our backers).
We hope to reach every visually impaired child, and we believe that FITTLE will transform how they see the world.
This project is featured in GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.