A whole new way for blind and partially sighted people to create
Thursday, 17 August 2017
The world’s first 3D printing pen is helping blind and partially sighted people of all ages to express themselves. Kelley Toy from 3Doodler, the manufacturer, tells us more.
Beginning with the launch of the first 3Doodler in 2013, members of our community reached out to us to explore opportunities for using the 3D printing pen to overcome a variety of learning obstacles. We spoke with community centres, teachers of children with special education needs and physical rehabilitation specialists – all who thought it could be used to make a real difference to people's lives. As our company has grown, so has our ability to focus on these needs, with our first challenge being to adapt the original version for blind and partially sighted people.
Daniel Cowen, 3Doodler President, explains: “The original thinking with the first version of the 3Doodler was that it could be used by teachers of blind and partially sighted students to make tactile learning aids. This could include raised line graphing, maps and directions, shapes or objects a student could feel – quick braille markings, feeling handwriting, and more.”
However, there was one significant shortfall – up until that point most of the discussions had been with teachers for children and young people with vision impairment and had been focused on educators using the pen to make tactile learning aids for their students.
The real goal was to create a pen that blind and partially sighted people could use themselves – placing the joy and accomplishment of creativity and learning directly into their hands.
Three years later, the launch of the 3Doodler Start provided the pathway to make this possible. With no hot parts and a plastic cool enough to touch, we finally had a 3D printing pen that was safe for all users. Shortly after launch, our team began the process of understanding what changes would be needed to create a meaningful experience for blind and partially sighted users.
With a proactive approach to new tech and how it could be applied to help visually impaired people, RNIB seemed a natural fit for collaboration, and would ensure rigorous testing and feedback so that the product could be adapted and enhanced in a meaningful way.
Conversations with RNIB provided us with useful preliminary advice – such as incorporating tactile markings on the pen instead of braille and the importance of audio instructions for blind users. It will also have full instructions in braille soon.
And now, after a year of feedback and testing – which included individuals, as well as two schools for children with vision impairment – the 3Doodler Start has been given the official RNIB product endorsement, a quality assurance mark for products identified as easy-to-use for those who are blind or partially sighted.
And opening new avenues for blind and partially sighted people to express creativity isn’t just about innovation, it has a direct personal impact on people’s lives.
Steve is blind and a father of a sighted son. He says: “Being able to draw, and being able to feel what you’ve drawn, or being able to create a product using this kind of manual 3D printing method is really new and innovative. I spent an hour with my son yesterday and we were able to enjoy the 3Doodler together.”
Everyone at 3Doodler is immensely proud of the work done with RNIB, as well as the impact these product changes will have on the creative lives of our users. We want to thank everyone who has been involved in this project to date, and underscore our commitment to creating a world where every person, regardless of ability, can have access to the tools they need to create and learn.