Apart from being useful in commercial and personal tasks, 3D printing has proven to be very helpful for those with numerous disabilities and impairments. For example, 3D printing has turned into a go-to tool across the world in order to ameliorate the lives of those suffering from blindness. From provision of better access to the world’s finest art to enhancing their educational experience, the visually impaired have been helped in various ways via this emerging technology. 3D printing for blind people is already taking huge leaps; read on to find out more.
Acknowledging the value of 3D printing, two Los Angeles-based teachers, Mike Cheverie and Lore Schindler, became early adopters of the technology. Cheverie is a teacher of the visually impaired at “Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences” while Schindler is a technology specialist for the visually impaired at the “Los Angeles Unified School District”. Both of them started using 3D printing to teach abstract math and scientific concepts to their students. These two educators were linked up by MIT alumna Joan Horvath and open-source 3D printer hacker Rich Cameron two years ago in order to host a 3D printing project with a group of students from the “Pasadena City College”.
The group of the students planned to 3D print a tactile map of a school that contained a large amount of visually impaired students. 3D printing for blind people utilizes raised symbols, Braille, and structural outlines and incorporates it into this map so that the blind students can navigate through their school grounds. Despite the fact that the project was an ultimate success, a few hindrances involving the mixture of physical and abstract information were faced by the group that they were forced to overcome, such as, when the team had to invent a symbol to show where a doorway was, they accidentally used the existing symbol for “ladies’ room”.
Owing to the requirement of having both physical and abstract information on the 3D map model, a number of hard decisions were made by the crew regarding what information they should include. There was a risk of making the map entirely unreadable by labeling too much of the map with Braille and symbols. Despite all this, the educators mentored the students into making a couple of viable 3D maps. During the two years following this project, mentors Horvath and Cameron have been working to give educators of the visually impaired access to these 3D printable designs, and founded “Nonscriptum LLC” in 2015.
However, they realized very soon that the teachers did not have enough time to learn CAD and create these assistive models on their own, even with access to a 3D printer. But then there were several students learning 3D printing and 3D design who had time and resources to make 3D prints that were helpful to the visually impaired. Hence, it was decided by Horvath and Cameron to enter the 2016 Hackaday Prize competition to create this educational community on a worldwide scale. Their entry centers around a Google Group that allows educators of the visually impaired to request 3D models they wish they had access to.
A teacher’s request of designing objects with different geometric shapes was fulfilled by them in order to prove the potential value of their community. Every shape was hollow and had one side open so that they can be filled with water by the students to notice that the volume was the same in each shape. In addition to this, Horvath and Cameron were also assigned the task of designing the shapes with removable lids, as well as blunting the sharp points of the shapes so that safe use for blind students can be guaranteed. On the whole, their open-source project has been a success so far and has been downloaded roughly 729 times up till now.
Their Hackaday entry was selected as semifinalist — a modular robot created for search a rescue missions took home the top prize — and this project has positive implications that reach far beyond the competition. It is the expectation of both Horvath and Cameron that their Google Group will turn out to be a catalyst for their style of collaborative learning between the student and teacher. Their 3D printing-driven initiative aim not only assists the visually impaired and their teachers acquire better access to educational tools, it also provides the opportunity to other student to learn the true potential of 3D design and 3D printing technology.