- Title: LEGO for the blind: AI enables play and discovery for the visually-impaired
- Date: 28th August 2019
- Summary: WATERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES (AUGUST 20, 2019) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF 11-YEAR-OLD ALEX AND HIS COUSIN (NO NAME GIVEN) WORKING TOGETHER TO ASSEMBLE A LEGO MODEL (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEGOFORTHEBLIND.COM CREATOR, MATTHEW SHIFRIN, SAYING: "Allowing every blind child to play really helps them learn. But it's also thrilling to the people around them. Their sighted friends come and they say: 'Wow you built this?' And that's more engagement, that's more interaction with their sighted friends. They grow closer to their sighted friends. They grow closer to their parents and their teachers and whoever else they meet along the way." BLIND CHILD BUILDING LEGO MODEL (SOUNDBITE) (English) PERKINS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND TEACHER, KATE KATULAK, SAYING: "LEGO is creating a pathway towards inclusion. They are encouraging, motivating and I even want to say demanding that other companies who develop toys jump on board. It is not fair, it is not OK and it is not just for things not to be accessible to everyone including children who are blind and visually impaired." 11-YEAR-OLD ALEX SMILING AS HE ASSEMBLES LEGO MODEL
- Embargoed: 11th September 2019 12:26
- Keywords: Braille building instructions LEGO model kits legofortheblind.com blind artificial intelligence AI visually-impaired Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence
- Location: WATERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES / UNKNOWN
- City: WATERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES / UNKNOWN
- Country: USA
- Topics: Information Technologies / Computer Sciences,Science,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA005AU4V8EZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: When a blind 13-year-old Matthew Shifrin built a LEGO model by himself for the first time, he realised he needed to help other blind children do the same.
Shifrin, who was born blind, built a miniature medieval castle with the help of his friend Lilya near Boston, Massachusetts. She had painstakingly written out Braille building instructions for him to follow.
Later she even wrote instructions for Shifrin to build a model of the Tower of London. The original instructions book was 850 pages long.
"After that first LEGO set that I built, I realised that I could not keep this to myself. I had to give this to other kids. Blind kids deserve this much more than I did," Shifrin said.
After Lilya passed away in 2017 he set up a website where blind people could access Braille building instructions for LEGO model kits, legofortheblind.com.
He then linked up with LEGO. Inspired by his website, they looked to artificial intelligence to get more blind and visually-impaired people using LEGO.
The Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence developed some AI software which translated the building instructions into text. These instructions can be read by Braille reader devices and translated into voice commands for smart phones.
LEGO is piloting the project between August 28 and Dec 31 featuring instructions for four sets. LEGO users are downloading them at legoaudioinstructions.com.
Thirteen-year-old blind child Alex, building LEGO at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, said it was "awesome".
"I love it. Because now I might actually be able to build with my brothers. They are obsessed with LEGOs and I've always wanted to build with them and you know I couldn't 'cos I can't see. So finally I might get my chance," he said.
Building LEGO is not just fun but helps children with their lives, Shfrin says.
"Allowing every blind child to play really helps them learn. But it's also thrilling to the people around them," he said.
"They grow closer to their parents and their teachers and whoever else they meet along the way," he added.
LEGO says, depending on feedback, it plans to feature audio and Braille instructions for more sets in the first half of 2020. It also wants to feature more languages in the future.
(Production: Patrice Howard, Emily Roe, George Sargent)
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