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Using 3D printing to help the blind and visually impaired

The amount of people that become aware of 3D printing grows and grows daily. With a different use case for each of them, it underlines the versatility of this wonderful manufacturing technique. Businesses use it for rapid prototyping, some people use it to save money, and others set their inner entrepreneur free with the freedom 3D printing gives. But amazingly, it’s also used as a way for visually impaired people to ‘see’ new things and enjoy a fresh understanding of the world around them.

Feeling is a blind person’s way of looking which was taken to a whole new level when Braille was invented around 1824, by blind Frenchman Louis Braille. Blind people could read with their fingertips by touching raised dots. But why stop at reading when 3D printing could offer the visually impaired so much more, for example, art? Or allow a blind mother to feel the face of her unborn child after an ultrasound scan?

As you can see, 3D printing can cross the bridge between the digital world and the physical one. Sounds like beautiful things can happen, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what is happening! I’m constantly inspired to see how many people are collaborating to come up with physical objects to educate and showcase what seeing people take for granted. Efforts are being made in several areas right now:

School for visually impaired children

In India there’s a school for visually impaired children which has really embraced the opportunities of 3D printing, enabling visually impaired children to learn so much more through touch and feel. Something as simple as explaining how current passes through a magnetic coil becomes much easier when the kids have a 3D printed graphic available to them. Holding a part in your hand, feel it and move it around, sparks much more imagination than when something is described.

Touching shapes to learn
3D Printing a coil
Blind person touching a 3D print

There are still a lot of challenges ahead, for example, what’s the best material if you want to teach kids about bones, skin or soft tissue? I’m curious to learn what will happen next.

Preserving eyesight

3D printing is also being used to preserve eyesight using a 3D printed eye care kit by doctor Hong. He’s invented a remarkable examination device, one that’s not only very accurate and inexpensive, but one that can be created and used in the most inaccessible places. Thanks to his design, people are able to prevent sight loss by diagnosing treatable and preventable blindness – without the need for expensive equipment.

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