Lego creates special bricks to teach Braille

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(CBS) – In Leonie Masterson’s London classroom, students are learning to read by touch. All of the students are blind or sight-impaired, and today, 17-year-old Aya and 18-year-old Francis are helping their younger classmates learn Braille.

“When I was young, I did not think I would ever be able to write or read,” Francis said.

Braille isn’t as easy as ABC; it takes time and a dedicated teacher who knows it. And that is not common. So, in stepped Lego with their new Braille bricks.

The studs on these Lego bricks have been specially rearranged to represent letters, numbers and symbols — the building blocks of language.

“It’s a good way of bringing sighted and vision-impaired people together, playing with Lego,” said Aya.

Leonie Masterson teaches Braille using Lego’s specially-designed bricks.  CBS NEWS

Lego hopes their new bricks bridge the gap so anyone can use them straight out of the box.

“You’re making learning fun,” said correspondent Ian Lee.

“I love Braille, and I like finding ways of teaching it,” said Masterson.

And it’s having this fun in the classroom as a child that can lead to success as an adult, say blindness charities.

“There is a direct link between Braille literacy and likelihood of getting a job; it’s as simple as that,” said Steve Tyler, director of assistive technology at the U.K.’s Leonard Cheshire Disability. “If you are literate, if you can read and write, you are more likely to get a job.”

The National Federation for the Blind says there is a crisis in America when it comes to Braille literacy. More than one million people in the United States are legally blind, but fewer than 10 percent can read Braille.

Unemployment among blind adults is over 70 percent, and nearly 90 percent of blind American children are not learning Braille.

Those were appalling numbers for Lego, which decided to help build a new generation of blind readers. “It was an opportunity for us to bring learning through play to children, also to children with visual impairment,” said Diana Ringe Krogh, head of advocacy at The Lego Foundation. “We believe very much in the power of play. We believe that children learn best through play.”

Their initiative gives these students not just the ability to construct sentences, but to shape their futures.

Lego’s Braille Bricks are expected to hit American classrooms next year. 

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