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 get.
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.