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How LEGO Can Help Blind People Experience the World

Imagine putting together a complicated LEGO set while blindfolded. Sounds impossible, right? It may very well be for those of us that can take sight for granted. Now consider that some LEGO builders don’t have the luxury of sight, and can create just fine. As it turns out, LEGO may be a very valuable tool to help blind people see without actually seeing.

Braincraft‘s Vanessa Hill profiled Matthew Shifrin, the creator of the website LEGO for the Blind. Shifrin has been blind since birth, but he’s become a very talented LEGO builder even without the benefit of sight. To give Shifrin the ability to put together complex LEGO sets, the relatively simple instructions were translated into very dense text descriptions. All of that text may be difficult to look at, but for Shifrin and other blind LEGO enthusiasts, it gives them a way to accurately recreate the LEGO sets as intended.

One of the benefits of LEGO is that the toys have given Shifrin a chance to understand the shape and subtleties of everything from spaceships to national monuments by building them. “LEGO is able to give you all of these different opportunities, be you blind or sighted, to perceive your world in a different way,” said Shifrin.” “It’s like this miniaturization of the real world that they could potentially recreate in real life. And also, it really allows to give the blind person a real sense of scale. It allows you to see what you would be unable to feel. You can’t climb on the Taj Mahal or the Tower Bridge, or any of these famous landmarks. But with these sets, you’re able to recreate them in their full glory…Now that I have a three-dimensional model, if someone says ‘we’re passing the Empire State Building,’ I can be like ‘oh yeah, I know what that looks like.'”

The video also explains the different types of blindness and explores whether the remaining senses of the blind are truly heightened. And while there is some question about the validity of that widely held belief, this segment suggests that the brains of the blind repurpose the visual cortex to help them solve other problems.

What did you think about this video? Construct your answers in the comment section below!

Image: PBS Digital Studios

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