Plastic LEGO blocks have been a staple of homes around the world since their creation back in 1947. In recent years, the company has taken strides to ensure the interconnecting colored bricks are as inclusive of a toy as possible.
Matthew Shifrin was born blind, but has enjoyed LEGOS his entire life. While sets often come with written instructions, those with visual impairments had no way to read them without the assistance of others. Thanks to a family friend, Shifrin was able to read instructions that were converted to Braille. “I had a friend, Lilya, who would write down all the building steps for me so that I could upload them into a system that allowed me to read the building steps on a Braille reader through my fingers. She learned Braille to engage with me and support my LEGO passion, and then spent countless hours translating LEGO instructions into Braille.”
It’s an awesome advantage that many other visually impaired kids never had access to… until now.
That’s because the now 22-year-old entrepreneur has teamed up with LEGO to launch new instructions, with an ambitious goal. “The goal is to have instructions in writing, Braille, and audio for every building set and in multiple languages,” Lego’s creative director, Fenella Blaize Charity, explained in a press release.
This follows the company’s release of their first-ever Braille bricks just a few months ago. While their primary purpose was to teach reading, the new blocks make a perfect complement to this new initiative. Shifrin says this step forward is “extremely important” for creating a more inclusive environment for kids of all abilities. “For blind children, we don’t have access to what sighted kids are used to. LEGO bricks enable us to learn about our environment, to see the world. It is so important because blind kids get left out of a lot of social stuff, especially in elementary school. But LEGO building is one of the things we can do.”
The company has initially released four building sets that are available now, encouraging people to try them and submit feedback via the project’s website. While Shifrin hopes to continue working with LEGO to release future sets, he’s now focused on spreading the available instructions to the blind community to gain show the progress being made. “I want every blind person to feel that the once impossible is now possible; that he or she can now build a miniature LEGO world.”
With so many studies currently underway examining things such as autism, we now know making sure every child feels included is critical to their wellbeing and ability to learn and interact in general.