Customize and Print 3D Picture Books for Visually Impaired Kids

Sophia Smith

Sophia is the managing editor of the Make: blog. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

91 Articles

By Sophia Smith

Sophia is the managing editor of the Make: blog. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

91 Articles

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Ah, the humble picture book. Its colorful pages invite children into the world of storytelling, with imagery that helps young kids recall narratives as they learn to read. But how do kids with visual impairments experience children’s books? Those flat, glossy pages don’t convey much of a story to children who don’t have perfect vision.

Assisted by a group of colleagues and students at the University of Colorado, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Yeh began the Tactile Picture Books project in 2014. Made available through 3D Hubs, Yeh and his students have “translated” popular children’s stories like Noah’s Ark into three-dimensional cards with Braille and simplified icons.

3D Printed Books for the Blind (HI-RES)1

Image courtesy of 3DHubs

Yeh and his team have developed a 3D design tool called CraftML, complete with an online editor, readymade templates, and a series of tutorials, so that parents and educators can create their own storybooks and customize them to their liking by modifying the HTML-like tags that control various attributes of the page. When the page is completed, it’s ready to be downloaded as an STL file, printed, and handed off to voracious little readers.

Below you’ll find an example file for one of the picture book cards. You can drag and spin the object to get a better look, but more importantly, you can edit the text field and it will dynamically update the Braille to match. Equally amazing is the fact that you can click the STL button below to directly download your newly customized story page.

Yeh says that CraftML has also found uses beyond children’s books. It’s been used as a platform for designing assistive devices like can openers, tactile diagrams, and fractal art.

A reader interacts with tactile pages from the children's book "Goodnight Moon." Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

A reader interacts with tactile pages from the children’s book Goodnight Moon. Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

“I think a big deficiency of today’s ecosystem for sharing 3D models is the lack of customizability,” shares Yeh. “Virtually all the models found online can only be downloaded as is in the STL format. I envision CraftML can help promote a much more open ecosystem for people to create and share 100% customizable 3D models.”

Yeh is offering a webinar on using CraftML for customizable 3D models. If you’re interested, tune in on Wednesday, March 30th at 3pm MT (5pm ET) for an online demo of CraftML.

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