scale model of a castle

Imagine never having seen a castle before and having no reference point other than relying on the visual-based descriptions other sighted people have given you. How do you really know what a castle is? Now imagine being able to explore a scale model of a castle with touch, and getting to formulate your own understanding of the walls, the towers, the turrets…and now the descriptions make more sense.

For partially sighted or blind people, touch is incredibly important for experiencing the world around them. Access to appropriate tactile information can mean the difference between feelings of belonging and alienation in environments where sight is taken for granted.

If more tactile information was available to the blind, more accessibility could be cultivated. 3D printing provides an excellent method to help expand on this and create more touch-based tools and aids to those that rely on touch more than sight.

Educational Models that Encourage Tactile Learning

When Caroline Karbowski was in high school she started See3D, a program that 3D prints models in any size upon request. A smaller model can be printed for a general familiarization with the object while a larger model can provide more details and allow for further exploration. Karbowski started by printing models for her friend Cassandra who is blind: “I asked her, ‘How would you describe a castle?’” Karbowski remembered. “And she said, ‘I can now feel the turrets. I can feel the walkways and the doorways. I have a more clear and vivid image of what ‘castle’ means. Before I touched the model, castle was just a word.’ And I thought, we need to make concepts more than just words.” This process is something that Caroline hopes will become a regular assignment for students in high school 3D printing classes.

Having a three-dimensional model that illustrates what the class is learning about is helpful to any student whether they are sighted or blind. It enables students to learn from the same object in their own way and facilitates an integrated learning environment. Pre-3D printing tactile models do exist but in limited capacity and could be highly expensive. 3D printing makes it possible to inexpensively print a model of almost anything, so there is no limit to this type of tactile learning. It is also possible to add braille to any design as needed.

Braille Embossed Gaming

Gamers and gaming companies are already using 3D printing to create customizable games and accessories for a more personalized experience. This means adding braille is also possible. Any of your favorite games can be re-designed printed with braille or other tactile information. In Greece, 33 students from two different high schools produced creative 3D printed projects carrying braille, including a sudoku board and a rubix cube. Both models can be downloaded and printed through Shapeways.

For Role Playing Games, Jack Berberette created the DOTS RPG Project to produce 3D printed braille dice through Shapeways and braille gaming books for visually impaired players.

The Fittle Project has created the world’s first braille embossed 3D printed puzzles to create new learning opportunities for blind people in India. Developed by the LV Prasad Eye Institute, the project features 26 puzzles for simple words from the English alphabet. They selected words that might not be easily felt in real life, like Rocket, Boat and Violin. The puzzle files are open-source and can be downloaded and printed in one of our 75+ materials.

Being able to customize games with braille or other tactile information not only leads to new learning opportunities for the blind, but also makes it possible for any game to be inclusive for the sighted and the blind.

Experiencing Visual Art & Graphics with Touch

Going to a museum exhibition for visual art might not sound like the most exciting activity for a blind person. The occasional existence of braille information or audio descriptions does not provide the same level of information about a visual work of art as your own personal experience with it. But as with most industries, museums have begun to make their own uses of 3D printing. One of those is the inclusion of 3D tactile versions of 2D paintings for the visually impaired to explore. A 3D printed painting can provide very specific details through touch, and can even include integrated audio sensors to further describe what the person is touching.

3D versions of art or any other visual representation do not need to be confined to museums either. This process could be applied to any art or graphics in public spaces, to further illustrate a tactile world.

Accessibility and inclusion can be better achieved if we shift our perception of what it means to “see.” A visual experience is only one way of taking in the world around you. 3D printing can give us the ability to really cater to that concept and build the appropriate tools. With customizable 3D printed tactile aids, and the ability to incorporate braille into any 3D design, there can be more opportunities to accommodate people who use touch to experience and navigate the world.

Do you have any ideas that contribute to tactile learning, experiences and communication? Upload your designs to build a new world based on touch.