It goes without saying that reading to kids is vitally important. So much so, in fact, that a couple of weeks ago, the American Society of Pediatrics issued a policy statement urging parents to read to their children every single day — starting in infancy and continuing through kindergarten at least. The organization also advised pediatricians to stress the importance of this during appointments and to hand out books to their patients, especially those from low-income households.
But what about visually-impaired children who face special challenges when it comes to reading? Not only do they have a hard time seeing the words, but they also miss out on all the colorful drawings in picture books, which go a long way towards helping young kids connect with a story.
For those youngsters, researchers at the University of Colorado have come up with a solution: They’re using 3-D printers to create tactile picture books.
Tom Yeh, an assistant professor of computer science, has been leading the team on this project for two years. They’ve created three-dimensional versions of classic picture books, such as “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?” and “Goodnight Moon.”
One happy user, Michelle Bateson, who reads the books with her three-year-old visually impaired daughter Elodie, told Sarah Kuta of the Boulder Daily Camera, “Elodie loves exploring the tiniest details. Her tiny fingers are so sensitive, she finds marks and lines I can’t see.”
According to Kuta, individual artists and the American Printing House for the Blind have been producing tactile picture books for years, but the process is labor-intensive and expensive. The University of Colorado team’s efforts to produce them with 3-D printers could give all blind kids access to these books. As the price of 3-D printers decrease, the researchers hope that families can use the online library they are creating to print books for themselves.
If you’re curious about what tactile books look like and you’re in Colorado, you can see several examples of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” created by students in Yeh’s upper-level computer sciences classes. The pages are on display at the University of Colorado’s Gemmill Library of Engineering, Mathematics and Physics.
“There’s not too many projects where you can see a very clear combination of engineering, societal impact and art,” Yeh told Kuta. “It gives all students an option to communicate through design and 3-D models.”