Introducing FITTLE, a toy to help blind children read — and feel

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Ophthalmologist Anthony Vipin Das is currently working on a new toy for the blind, FITTLE, with Tania Jain, a designer from National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar. The toy will help blind children learn to read Braille while getting a sense of the shape of the world around them. We asked him to tell us all about it.

For blind children, learning Braille is an integral part of how they interface with the world, and most current haptic technology for the blind focuses on Braille. However, teaching Braille at a young age is definitely a challenge. For example, a child who needs to be taught the word “fish” in Braille has no idea what a real fish looks like. He feels four Braille letters that stand for F-I-S-H, and cannot even try to visualise how a fish looks. I feel that learning of Braille can be made a lot more fun if it’s taught in an interactive way.

Tania Jain, a designer from NID, Gandhinagar, approached me with this idea at a DIY workshop “Engineering the Eye” that I co-organized with the Camera Culture Group of Ramesh Raskar from the MIT Media Lab. Her concept involves breaking down objects into as many blocks as there are alphabets in the word. So, FISH is constructed by joining together four puzzle blocks, which have the letters F-I-S-H on them, each embossed in Braille. When the visually challenged kid fits together the blocks by feeling and matching the right shapes, he can read the word “fish” embossed in Braille, as well as feel around the contours of the entire block, which is shaped like a fish. Like this, it becomes easy for the kid to understand shapes of various objects that can be taught by a parent or a teacher. The possibilities are endless.

This new toy, which we call FITTLE (“fit the puzzle”), helps children to learn individual letters of Braille, construct words, and understand the form of objects, all through a playful puzzle game. Essentially we are changing the way blind children at a young age are going to perceive the world around them.

We wish to help spread this as far and wide as possible. With current technology, FITTLE can be downloaded through open source platforms and the pieces can be 3D printed by anyone who wishes to do so. We are in the process of creating the first alphabet series as well as a graded curriculum where the child can progress to different levels according to age at LV Prasad Eye Institute, India.

We are excited at how this can radically change the learning process of Braille and the way children will feel form. Moving forward, Tania and the FITTLE team wants to experiment with different materials that would feel like the original object’s texture – like rubber to give the feel of a real fish – for kids to understand even better. It’s been an amazing experience to mentor the team so far, and we are really looking forward to reaching every blind child with FITTLE to help them perceive and understand the world around them in a playful way!

Catch more of the action at FITTLE’s website which went live today!

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