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Picture books for the visually-impaired get a 3D boost

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 15:21 -- nikita.jain

“Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon...”

Remember the classic children’s book where a bunny says good night to everything around it? Now, thanks to the efforts of a University of ColoradoBoulder team, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is now available in 3D.   

The team’s Tactile Picture Books project is an effort to introduce 3D printed books to help visually-impaired children enjoy the beauty of children’s books. A tactile book is a picture book, designed for children with visual impairments. Some tactile books have contrasting textures, very little text and all the illustrations can be felt.

“We started off with the Goodnight Moon, which is a universally loved children's book. The story focuses on objects that children can see, touch and see from their daily life, giving us the idea of paying attention to one or two objects per page,” says Jeeeun Kim, a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. The tactile books can be co-read, i.e. parents can read the story aloud while children can feel the pictures on the page.

Kim moved to the States after quitting her job at Samsung and KT to study technology. A scientist and technician, she always hoped to find a way to help people enjoy technology. In 2012, Dr Tom Yeh, assistant professor of Computer Science, started this project with his students. “Dr Yeh has a young son who loves picture books. We realised this efficient way of conveying the context of children’s books through vivid and colorful pictures, which cannot be felt by visually-impaired children. Meanwhile, the price of 3D printers is getting cheaper and readily available. It gave us the idea that we could use this emergent technology to help these children.”
The second tactile book printed by the Colorado team was Harold and Purple Crayon. The 1955 children's book by Crockett Johnson is the story of a curious four-year-old who can create his own world by drawing it with a purple crayon. Some of the 3D pages printed contain a single object that dominates the page -- like a boat Harold is climbing in. 
Kim is currently working on transcribing Dear Zoo, the pop-up book. “Simplicity and avoiding too much detail is the key of tactile books for young children, so that they can be introduced to specific concepts that the picture is conveying,” says Kim.

Future plans include a 3D printed children’s book which interactively gives feedback to children. “We want to create a story that focuses on the unique sound of each object such as animal sounds from ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What to you hear?’”, says Kim. 

The Tactile Picture Books team is working with a pre-school for blind children in the Great Denver area, and with its National Braille Press to distribute the books to blind children and libraries across the nation. They want to eventually build a virtual community of parents and teachers of visually-impaired children that can design their own children’s books, download them and customise them. 


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