Blind and visually impaired children have the same hopes and dreams as any other child.
Braille is important for them to learn, to ensure that they are not socially excluded but that they have the same opportunities as their friends as their peers.
The important thing to realise about visual impairment is that no experience is the same.
Sight can even change if it's night or day.It can change in terms of lighting.Visual impairment isn't a thing.It's a spectrum of things.
I think braille's hugely relevant and hugely important and the reason why is because it's about imagining and seeing the words on your fingers but ultimately in your brain.
Learning braille gives you those skills of reading and writing which is the spelling, the punctuation, all of those things that make up literacy.
We still are heavily reliant on print and as long as society is reliant on print to tell its message then braille will still be a legitimate form of code.
Only 24% of people who are blind or have low vision are actually employed and of those most of the people who are employed actually learn braille and have braille skills.
We've been teaching braille for a very, very long time but I will say that the one thing that was missing was something that you could start with very young children.
So, normally when children learn braille, like little children, I guess they kind of learn to scribble, so they get a Perkins brailler and they punch away on the Perkins brailler, they feel little books that are brailled for them and then they may learn braille with cupcake tins and ping pong balls, there's so many ways that we learn.
But as yet there haven't been any blocks that they can learn from, so, having something that is just so similar to everybody else is just wonderful.
So, the LEGO Braille Bricks Project started by blind and visual impairment organisations reaching out to us with the idea.
At that point of time it was a pretty rough idea but nevertheless everybody can just see the idea
and really wanted to be part of making a difference.
We really quickly reached out to Blind Associations around the world to get their input and help on testing this.
Well, the first thing that went through my mind when I first saw the LEGO Braille Bricks is why didn't I think of it but that's just me.
But actually, what I really thought was "absolutely game changing".
What we quickly discovered was that actually, it would make sense for us to use the 2x4 brick and then remove the two lower studs, so, when you look at the LEGO Braille bricks, the studs are representing the different letters in the braille alphabet, numbers or symbols.
The cool thing about the LEGO Bricks is it invites inclusivity.
Other students want to be a part of this, they want to be a part of that learning experience.
The other thing it does for students is it destigmifies blindness.
A lot of people who come into braille or try to work in this field, they think they know what's right for people who are blind or visually impaired and they just make it themselves.
The LEGO Foundation involved people in the field, involved people who were blind, they did everything right in the development of the product and then not only that, they said, you know what, we can't just send this product out and then expect everybody to learn from it, we have to build this whole ecosystem of learning around it.
We realised that if we want these toolkits to be utilised by all the practitioners anywhere in the world, it has to be accompanied by a pedagogical concept, that is to say activities, and also activities that allow to develop a breadth of skills, that are so important for the child.
Learning through play is kind of the founding principle around this pedagogical concept and through the research that LEGO Foundation has done over many years we know that there are some key characteristics and some key skills developed by using play-based methods.
Our main purpose is for people to understand what we mean by learning through play, so, what is play, what is so special about play and how you can as a teacher practitioner teach braille through play with LEGO Braille Bricks.
It's a learning tool but it's also a teaching tool for all the practitioners to be able to engage in learning through play and to adopt the mindset that is required for this.
The LEGO Braille Bricks fell right into the hands of teachers, in terms of allowing them to use their professional skills and creativity to build inclusive lessons that were fun, that were engaging and got to the heart of what education at the primary level is about, which is about that numeracy and literacy.
LEGO Braille Bricks have been a real key resource that we've had in school this year.
Children learn through play and it's very difficult to play on your own with braille.
So, when we can get it into a group situation where sighted peers can join in as well, it's absolutely fantastic to see.
- Three animals please.
Lion, tiger, elephant.
It means that some of our sighted peers have begun to learn braille and they enjoy the activities just as much as our non-sighted learners as well.
I'm Etta and I'm six years old and I'm in Year One.
Etta doesn't need a special school, her visual impairment is kind of her only need, she doesn't have special educational needs on top of that, so, really putting her in a mainstream school was just the only way to go because it's kind of going to prepare her for a mainstream world, if you like.
So, what do you think?
J. H. F. D.
I've known Etta since she was at nursery school, she's the first braillist I have officially taught.
We've been going on the journey together.
Unless you describe everything to Etta in a room or in her world, she doesn't know it exists.
-What do you think?
The top one, sound pretty good to me.
A lot of people think: "Oh, VI child in a mainstream classroom, how can they do the same kind of things?"
The LEGO Braille Bricks really help with that because the bricks have the print on as well, then it's easy for Etta's peers to do the same activity whatever it is.
-I'll find one.
-Oh, you want to find it yourself?
When Etta started school, her level of paper braille reading and being able to produce braille in writing on the brailler was really, really limited.
Through using the LEGO Braille Bricks every day she very, very quickly picked up all the letter formations, the dot formations and began to discern what the letters were.
Well, I started learning the easy letters and I started writing them more and more and then I got all the switchy round ones, like the D's and F's and J's and H’s and all the those and they always used to catch me out.
Because of the LEGO Braille Bricks she was able to write words and use the sounds in words, differentiate between the sounds. She did really, really well.
It's because all the teachers are friendly and they make my work really fun.
There is a LEGO Braille Bricks, a website, which is full of all the activities, and instructions, and videos as well that explains how to deliver some of the sessions and the impact that those sessions can have.
There are also videos that we watch on YouTube of other professionals that are delivering sessions as well and we've uploaded some of our videos of those as well, and then there's a whole wealth of training videos, that you can access through YouTube.
There's always a place for the LEGO Braille Bricks in the lessons I teach,
I take it with me everywhere. They are so flexible and so adaptable.
We need to make sure that as much of that classroom experience is the same for blind and partially sighted kids as is for anyone else and I think that the braille LEGO Bricks fall absolutely squarely into that space.
So, we really want to have a society that is inclusive in the future and that starts now in education.
So, being able to have LEGO Braille Bricks and have learning of braille that is inclusive of others is really important, so they can see what braille's about and what it can do for everybody.
This is happening in multiple countries, so, in essence, it's not just an educational tool, we've created an educational ecosystem.
When I think about LEGO Braille Bricks, it's not just these beautiful bricks, it's this beautiful community of learning which I think is really important.
When we're out there seeing the kids use LEGO Braille Bricks in the classroom, it's just so lovely to see the smiles, and the fun, and the laughter.
We want to impact the lives of many more children, right, we want to make the world a better place for blind and visually impaired children.
That's what this is about, plain and simple.