In the past year, 3-D printing has been experiencing major breakthroughs, and it promises even greater strides in the fields of sustainability, technology and medical research. Yet the technology is currently being pioneered for another purpose: to help visually impaired children understand the fantastical worlds depicted in classic literary works such as Goodnight Moon and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
A project at the University of Colorado is hoping to jump-start the commercial development of tactile books, allowing children to follow along text read aloud by tracing the corresponding raised illustrations with their fingers. The technology converts the images in original titles into pictures you can feel with a 3-D printer. Researchers at the Tactile Picture Book Project are working in conjunction with Denver’s Anchor Center—a nonprofit specializing in helping visually impaired children achieve educational success—on the project.
Tactile books are crucial to early cognitive development for blind children, who typically don’t begin to read Braille until the age of 6. The Anchor Center’s executive director, Alice Applebaum, explained in an interview with Mashable that the project can help even younger children develop the ability to explore the world through their hands. "It is one more opportunity for visually impaired children to experience literacy in an expanded way," she said. "Will it make them better readers? Not necessarily, but it will make them more aware of what the world looks like."
Tactile books are currently pricey to produce, but affordable 3-D printing is projected to be available within the next two to three years. Researchers aim to eventually have the option available for both parents and educators, allowing them to take photos and send them to a 3-D printer for their personalized tactile book. The Tactile Picture Book Project is also testing workshops and software programs that might make it possible for parents to create tactile books for their own children.
Mashable reports that, since the original Goodnight Moon book was printed, titles including The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Cat in the Hat have been added to the steadily growing collection, which means the infamous Everyone Poops can’t be far behind on the list.