- 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) (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEGOFORTHEBLIND.COM CREATOR, MATTHEW SHIFRIN, SAYING: "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 because they had even less access to this than I did. Not many people have Lilyas in their lives, or parents who can sit with them for hours and build this sort of thing. So then I started legofortheblind.com. And on this website we bought every single LEGO set that we could find. Thrift stores, yard sales wherever and we made text-based instructions for them and we posted them on that website." SHIFRIN WALKING ALONG CORRIDOR (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEGOFORTHEBLIND.COM CREATOR, MATTHEW SHIFRIN, SAYING: "Blind people learn primarily by touch and listening and maybe smell and taste, depends on what they're learning. But mainly it's touch and the fact that LEGO have incorporated Braille into their bricks as a learning solution is very helpful."
- 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: LVA003AU4V8EZ
- 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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