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How do people who are blind learn to read braille? Here's a cool new way.

Braille Bricks may be the key to helping raise literacy among those who are blind.

How do people who are blind learn to read braille? Here's a cool new way.

As a baby, Anny struggled to meet her mother's eyes as she breastfed — the first sign that something was amiss.

Janete, Anny's mother, came to learn that her daughter had a very strong nystagmus, a condition which results in uncontrolled movement of the eye. As a result, Anny would spend her life struggling to see, functionally blind.


"When Anny was first brought to be breastfed, I noticed her eyes wouldn't fix on mine." All images and GIFs via Braille Bricks.

Janete did all she could for Anny, even sending her to school with a braille typewriter. Unfortunately for both of them, Anny's teachers simply didn't know how to use it and therefore couldn't teach her how to teach to read.

"When she went to school, I told the teacher she would bring the braille typewriter."

According to the National Federation of the Blind, just 10% of blind children in the U.S. are learning braille.

Most of the time, as was the case for Anny, it's an issue of teachers not having the skills or resources to teach children with visual impairments to read. As the NFB writes, "America would never accept a 10% literacy rate among sighted children." So why is that rate acceptable for children with visual challenges?

There needs to be a better way to teach children to learn braille — and now there is. They're called Braille Bricks.

And at their core, Braille Bricks are basically modified Legos. Letters in the braille alphabet are represented in a series of dots across a 2x3 area, making the 2x3 Lego brick the perfect canvas for this project. The idea came from a Brazilian nonprofit called the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind.

"Small modifications to toy building bricks found at any kids store and voila: we have a full braille alphabet."

As you can see, it's simply a matter of which dots of the bricks are left raised that determine the letter:

"A, B, C, D... ." You get the idea.

It's pretty simple, right? See, here's how you'd write "Upworthy" using Braille Bricks:

You can make your own saying over at the Braille Bricks website.

The best part is that Braille Bricks are not only educational — they're fun, too.

Whether students are blind or have low vision or not, Braille Bricks serve as an educational toy all children can have fun playing with...


Children play with Braille Bricks.

...which is why teacher Camila Ferreria describes the impact these bricks have had on her students like this:

"It helps not only with braille literacy, but also aids in integration with the other kids."

So no longer do students who are blind need to be separated from their classmates; it can be an inclusive learning experience for all.

As for Anny, she loves her Braille Bricks, and in a world so seemingly eager to ignore her needs, they are definitely a welcome development.

Finding new ways to accommodate individuals with disabilities is so important. Having empathy for others is such a key element in life, and this is just one example of how thinking creatively can produce simple, effective solutions that bring people with different life experiences and opportunities together through compassion.

"The experience was great for me, because having another way to learn braille is much better."

Currently, Braille Bricks are available on a very small scale, with somewhere around 300 students having access to them.

That's why the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind is asking for help. Their hope is that someone in the toy industry will take interest in their project and produce these learning tools on a mass scale. (Hello, Lego?) What they're asking of people around the world is to raise awareness of the product by using the hashtag #BrailleBricksForAll.

Will it work? Only time will tell. But does this seem like a cool, fun, and simple solution to encouraging literacy and inclusion among blind students and their sighted friends? Absolutely.

It's awesome that Braille Bricks are working out for Anny and other students at the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind. Here's hoping that the helpers of the world continue to develop new ways to make our world a more accessible place.

For more information about Braille Bricks, check out this video below:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less