Maker Tales: Creating tactile storybooks for children with visual impairment

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Images are one of the most memorable parts of our favorite childhood fairy tales. Imagine if you couldn’t see them? The Tactile Picture Books Project is a community of students and researchers that is developing 3D printed storybooks for blind children. The project is based at the University of Colorado Boulder and is currently using our platform to produce its second round of prototypes. This week, we had a chance to talk to Jeeeun Kim, one of the students leading the project.

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Images are one of the most memorable parts of our favorite childhood fairy tales. Imagine if you couldn’t see them? The Tactile Picture Books Project is a community of students and researchers that is developing 3D printed storybooks for blind children. The project is based at the University of Colorado Boulder and is currently using our platform to produce its second round of prototypes. This week, we had a chance to talk to Jeeeun Kim, one of the students leading the project.

Making tactile storybooks accessible to all

The goal of the Tactile Picture Books Project is to make the books accessible to visually impaired children and their parents, all over the world. The team is currently creating a digital library with a collection or free STL files. For now, parents can find Goodnight Moon STL files on Thingiverse or submit a request to receive a copy on the project’s website.

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“We have received dozens of inquiries from Australia, Russia, Poland…even the Kingdom of Tonga,” says Jeeeun. “I never imaged how enthusiastic the community would be. Some parents have even sent us video recordings of their children reacting to the book. Our hope is to launch the digital library and eventually enroll a few publishers to help us meet the demand for more book variants.”

Re-imagining visual storytelling

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Goodnight Moon was the first prototype created by the UC-Boulder team. A favorite among American families, the story follows a young rabbit as he says goodnight to all of his surroundings. To create a 3D model of the story, Jeeeun’s team selected a number of images and rendered them using SketchUp. Afterwards, the team contacted PHYSI3D’s Hub in Denver to print the images in dense PLA sheets. Using these sheets as examples, the project members have started offering workshops for local parents and teachers. The workshops revolve around the following 3D modeling methods:

1. Designing models in SketchUp or Maya - for parents with little to no experience with 3D design software, the team is offering SketchUp and Maya workshops. If you want to try this at home, Jeeeun recommends that you start by creating grouped polygons. You’re also welcome to use some of the team’s designs by downloading them from 3D warehouse.

2. Designing models in OpenSCAD - parents with programming experience can try OpenSCAD to modify or design their own book models.

3. 3D scanning LEGO blocks - this approach is currently in a testing phase. The idea is to let parents 3D scan 2D visuals made with lego blocks, allowing for a bit of playfulness and flexibility in their books’ design. The team uses 3D digitizer from MakerBot to scan the blocks. For parents, they recommend 123D Catch, a mobile app powered by AutoDesk.

So far, the preferred material for printing is PLA, since it is less toxic, but the team is also considering food-safe materials to make sure there are no safety hazards for young toddlers.

Want to get involved? Contact Jeeeun and subscribe to the project newsletter to learn more.

by Gloria Quintanilla​
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