Mandy Shuk-Man Lau / Monash University
Reach & Match
Reach & Match
This project is a naturally tactile toy that introduces children to Braille and understanding objects. Children naturally like to reach, touch, and feel things and this project is notable for designing for visually impaired childrens’ needs. – Lorraine Justice
Reach & Match
1. The Nutshell: In plain language, tell us what your project is, what it does, and what it’s comprised of.
Reach&Match is a Braille learning toy for visually impaired children with multi-disabilities to have an interesting exposure to Braille literacy and functional skills learning for independence. The design aims to bring dignity, comfort, support and a quality of life experience for visually impaired children to enjoy equal rights and opportunity.
The innovation of double-sided sensory play provides a friendly and welcome platform, it simultaneously bridges the cultural gap between visually impaired children and sighted children:
Front side: provides toddlers pre-braille learning, learning mobility symbols and identifying tactile patterns. Back side: provides preschoolers Braille learning, motor development, direction and space training.
2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
From 1963 to 1988, the number of students in the US identified as legally blind more than tripled. However, students who were taught to read Braille declined from 57 percent in 1963 to less than 9.5 percent in 1998. The decline of Braille was mainly due to several reasons: moving children from specialised schools for the blind into public school that made them struggle, not having enough Braille-qualified teachers and using technology as a substitute for Braille leaves blind children illiterate. In the past century, blind children learned to read by touching the words. Today, children can be well versed in literature without knowing how to read, they rely on audio texts, voice-recognition software and computer.
While sighted children have the advantage of visual pleasure to learn reading, there is no visual stimulation to motivate the blind children. Therefore, my design aims to provide a unique bridge, a smoother and more interesting path to Braille literacy. Not only must pre-school blind children become aware of Braille as a means of communication, they must also have enough positive experience with it to be sufficiently motivated to learn how to understand it.
The biggest challenge for Reach&Match is the first-mover design for children with visual impairment, conservative mind in the society and constraints of standard Braille made the design very difficult. Constraints and inconsistency also lie between concepts and practice. To design an organized, consistent and meaningful way for blind children, my design was conducted very carefully and with discipline.
3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Braille is a system of reading, writing and printing by embossing dots onto paper which can then be read by touch. Since Braille is a writing system where tactile perception is used, as opposed to visual perception, a Braille reader must develop new skills. Braille is not only a tool to help blind people function, itself is an art that composed of beautiful, orderly lines of words that can convey a different idea that can stimulate the reader. Reading Braille is able to give a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for visually impaired people. The decline of Braille literacy is a sign of regression but not progression. When I look into the learning of Braille and lots of stories behind, I am afraid this beautiful and valuable writing system will be faded out. Therefore, I designed Reach & Match which helps the young blind children to have a positive and enjoyable exposure to Braille.
Besides, blindness is always links with multi-disabilities, like mental retardation, autism and hearing impairment, there is very little opportunity for visually impaired children to interact with others, hence the design acts as platform to bridge the gap between them. I understand that my design has to make deliberate efforts to develop and refine sensory abilities in blind children than would be necessary with sighted children. Therefore, Professionals like Braille teacher, childhood educator, physiotherapists and mobility instructors are interviewed in order to understand the physical and cognitive abilities of blind children.
4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
This project has involved looking at the literacy of Braille and its global change throughout recent years, the research on early childhood education for visually impaired children and observation from children with multi-disabilities. The objective of the project was obvious and direct at the beginning, during the design development it opened up a deep consideration on every detail. The layers of the information for developing the design would not be possible made without understanding the complexity of early education for the visually impaired children.
The design development was conducted through different design methodologies from sketch ideation to detailed design, however by having a research and observation based project, a much richer experience is created for the designer and users. Through collaborating with Vision Australia and working with professionals like Braille teachers, mobility instructors, physiotherapists and childhood educators; I have received direct feedback for the design explorations, development and modification. The design was directly response to the actual circumstances and needs of the blind children. There were an abundant exchange of ideas and knowledge amongst parents, the professionals and myself. Throughout the design process, I kept obtaining new insight and inspiration from observation and communications with people to help nurture my ideas.
Mock-up and soft models were made for testing and obtained feedback from professionals with different areas. Fabric version of the design was also created to serve for visually impaired children in developing countries. Considering to extend market group for developing rural communities which are deprived of schooling due to socioeconomic and physical barriers. Low cost fabric version of Reach & Match was developed to allow all blind children share the right of learning. Full scale working prototypes were successfully made at the end and tested with visually impaired children in Vision Australia and Statewide Vision Resource Centre.
During the design, I have considered different stakeholders. Firstly, children with blindness in both developed and developing countries will be able to have an interesting exposure to Braille alphabets and encouraged to learn Braille at their young age. Secondly, the design helps the teacher to provide a friendly and comfortable platform for connecting visually impaired children and sighted children and introducing cooperation and mutual interaction. Also,the portable design allows the Braille teachers bring the toy to different schools for more children to enjoy. As the toy is serving for a group play purpose, it helps schools to lower the cost for purchasing many. Thirdly, I have also considered the manufacturers, the design can be easily mass produced by existing technologies and skills, materials are easily accessible and with a low cost. Fabric version of the design can be afforded by local people using accessible raw fabric materials and sewing skills. Lastly, it also provides an opportunity for retailers to make revenue since the toy is targeting for public schools and educational organizations, the toy is not only suitable for children with visual impaired but it also provides educational learning for all children like alphabets learning, logical intelligence, motor development and spatial awareness,etc.
5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
1. Universal Primary Education – Interesting exposure to Braille literacy for visually impaired children and functional skills like motor development, spatial awareness, logical intelligence, verbal learning and manual dexterity.
2. Self-empowerment of blind and disabled - functional training in the design is the first step for disabled children to learn alternative skills of independence and helps them to achieve their full productive potential.
3. Social Interaction - improve physical and mental impact from discrimination on disabled children by providing channel between disabled children and society
4. Early Emotional Development - an opportunity to receive concern, support and encouragement through the platform created by the design. The accomplishment of game is able to give them incentive, confidence and sense of achievement.
5. Entertainment - integrated with the important elements of hearing pleasure, tactile fantasy and also bodily identification.
1. Design for a large and ignored population with disability – children with visual impairment.
2. Aims to bring dignity, comfort, support and a better quality of life experience for visually impaired children to enjoy learning.
3. Raise the public attention of education importance for those in disadvantaged groups
6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
During the conceptual design development, there were a lot of design explorations created, however, I could not know how to select my idea until I did my observational research in Vision Australia, where I was able to observe a group of visually impaired children and talk to their parents. I could not understand how those children interpret the physical world around them until I spent a period of time to talk and play with them and discussed my interesting observations with the professionals. I found that we are remarkably ignorant about blindness and the term of ‘blind’ is so vague and general that it impedes consideration of differing degrees of blindness. Actually, every visually impaired person has a unique efficiency and severity of sight loss. Hence, observation was the most valuable research during my project. We shared different ideas that are created by dialogue, comparisons, metaphors, funny or serious observations. Different questions have been stimulated during the observation.
The testing of the prototypes with the visually impaired children was also very challenging and full of learning opportunities. Since each visually impaired child had a different range of vision, each of them had different response to the toy. Greater differences could be observed between the total blind and visually impaired children. It was hard to define the difficulty of the game in my design, therefore a longer period of time for observation and testing was required and the choice of tactile interface have been clearly investigated and consulted with professionals.