Blind Lego fan Matthew Shifrin has completed a 17 year labour of love that has seen the building bricks giant reach out to help visually impaired children use the toy.
But along the way, his success was blighted with tragedy as the baby sitter, Lilya Finkel, who helped him launch the project when he was aged just five years old died from cancer.
Their hard work now stands as a tribute to Lilya who had the foresight and imagination to help the blind open a new world of spatial awareness.
The devoted pair never gave upon their dream, even though the corporation resisted their efforts for more than a decade.
The firm is publishing a growing library of construction plans for their sets in Braille and audio as a result of Matthew and Lilya’s efforts and has taken on American Matthew, now 22, as a paid consultant.
Download Braille instructions
The downloads can be fed into a Braille reader that coverts onscreen text into Braille characters.
“I loved the creativity of Lego,” said Shifrin.
“Plus, it was wonderful brain training for me. Blind people have trouble with spatial reason and spatial awareness, and Lego lets you go piece by piece to put a room together.”
The work was a mammoth task, with hundreds of Lego sets comprising more than 80,000 individual bricks and other construction pieces that Shifrin and Finkel catalogued and analysed to create a system that aided the blind and visually impaired.
Lego is testing the system until the end of the year, when the service will be reviewed and extended into other languages besides English.
Tragedy mars project
“This was always something we wanted to address: How do we make Lego for visually impaired and blind children?” said Fenella Blaize Charity, Lego’s creative director.
“We want the Lego experience out to as many kids as possible.”
“We had looked at the project but it was only when Matthew came to us with this amazing solution he’d already started work on that we could feel it was possible.”
Unfortunately, Finkel did not live to see Lego take up her dream even though she was translating set instructions up to her death in 2017.