By Albert J. Rizzi
Kudos to the Lego Group, the manufacturers of the iconic Lego bricks for not
‘dis’ labeling kids with a visual impairment and for incorporating Braille into
their product that has been entertaining children and adults alike since 1932.
Guided by the company’s spirit: “Only the best is good enough,” the
company, committed to the development of children with a focus on
inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow through creative play and
learning have, for the first time, just announced that they are intentionally
including Lego lovers who are blind or visually impaired through the
introduction of LEGO bricks with Braille. Right now, prototypes are being
tested in the UK, Denmark, Norway, and Brazil.
When I lost my eyesight, one of the things I thought would have been lost to
me was reading. I learned Level 1 Braille when I could see and was trying,
despite having neuropathy in my hands, to build my Braille skills sufficient
enough to read independently again. Alas, that was not in the cards for me,
but knowing that the numeracy driven Braille alphabet is being
mainstreamed so to speak is both promising and hopeful for those who read
Braille. Braille is critically important in the acquisition of language and when
used to compliment computer skills, but not replace them, is a perfect fit
much as each Lego brick fits one into another. Technologies can never and
should never replace learning how to read the written, or Brailled word. With
widespread use of computer programs and other assistive devices, there is
less of an incentive to learn Braille than there used to be.
However, it’s vitally important to remember that Braille is another critical
tool for us to use when communicating as intelligently and articulately as our
sighted peers. At My Blind Spot, we believe access to the right tools
promotes ability and restores infinite possibilities in our lives. It is great to
see that the Lego Group agrees.
According to the European Blind Union, people who read Braille are more
independent, attain a higher level of education, and have better employment
opportunities with upward mobility. It makes sense to give all people of all
abilities the tools they need to be successful and self-sufficient.
The LEGO Braille Bricks are manufactured in a way that they replicate the
dots and cells that represent numbers and letters in Braille. Each brick also
has printed letters or characters on the individual bricks so low vision
individuals, as well as sighted individuals can work together and play
together. Who would have thought that authentic inclusion would have been
as simple as child’s play?
This initiative came about because the leaders at the LEGO Group listened to
the advocates from the non-profits and others in the blind and visually
impaired community. Thankfully, they did not follow the same old sad script
that involves head nodding and platitudes that many in the community still
Not only is this the socially conscious thing to do but it also makes good
business sense. The World Health Organization reports we live in a world
where 19 million kids are visually impaired and, of those, nearly two million
are totally blind. This inclusive “toy” could have far-reaching educational
impact, improved mental well-being, and self worth. It also means that kids
of all ages can learn and play with Legos for the first time ever.
It’s very easy to post negative things when a corporation does not live up to
our expectations or social responsibility, but here is an obvious opportunity
to applaud a job well done. However, anyone whose kids play with Legos can
still mutter a curse when they accidentally step on a brick during a barefooted
trek to the bathroom in the middle of the night.