3D printed picture books are helping visually impaired children to read

A picture is worth a thousand words

3D printing has proven itself to be a manufacturing method with a huge variety of applications; from body parts, to biscuits, to Gadgette’s very own Bulbasaur plant pot, it seems there are very few things which the process can’t produce. The latest thing we’ve found it being used for, though, is perhaps one of our favourites: tactile picture books.

The Tactile Picture Books Project was started by a team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, who asked “a picture is worth a thousand words. But what if you couldn’t see it?” Their answer is to bring narratives to life using 3D printing in order to help visually impaired children with their reading.

By integrating three dimensional pictures into the sentences of stories, the team hope to help children learning to read braille to develop their literacy skills through the context provided by the tactile pictures. One of the most difficult parts of the creation process is deciding which words are most appropriate to be turned into images, and the researchers say they concentrate mostly on nouns. For example, when turning Alice in Wonderland into a tactile picture book, they made the items Alice interacts with in the text tactile in order to help children understand the objects in terms of shape and texture.

So far the team have produced books based on Dear Zoo, Goodnight Moon, and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

In an effort to make the books available to as many people as possible, the project’s website has an open library from which the digital files can be downloaded free of charge and brought to life by anyone with access to a 3D printer. For more information on how to contribute to the project and for access to the open library you can visit the website.