Imagine if you could pick up Braille just by playing with a ball. A new conceptual toy by recent Pratt grad Danielle Pecora is designed precisely for that.
Be-B is a ball that helps kids, blind or not, learn Braille through touch and sound. Looking a bit like a stiff Koosh ball, it has 26 magnetic pegs, each depicting a letter of the alphabet in Latin on one side and Braille on the other. The object's to fit the pegs into 26 circular indents in the ball that are themselves embossed in Braille letters. "A" in Braille, for instance, is a single dot, so you'd find the peg with one dot, then match it to the spot on the ball with one dot. An electronic device in the ball chimes when you get a letter right. It'll also verbalize what letter you're touching when you run your fingers over the indents. And if you get frustrated, you can always throw the ball! (Except we can't promise it won't break.)
Be-B won the Game Changers Competition from DESIGN 21: Social Design Network recently. The contest asked entrants to design a game that "aims to create change by improving lives or inspiring new behaviors." Pecora beat out 89 competitors from 29 countries. "I love that even without explanation, be-B is a tactile and graphically engaging object that could easily be enjoyed and 'figured out' in playful ways," effuses judge Emily Pilloton, who founded Project H Design and whom we've written about before.
The main problem, though, is this: Be-B might already be obsolete. In Western countries, text-to-speech software and other reading technologies have turned Braille into a relic of the pre-digital age. As the New York Times reported last year, less than 10 percent of legally blind Americans read Braille. Yet many would argue that Braille literacy allows for a measure of independence no elaborate gizmo can provide. After all, what do you do when computers fail? In this sense, Pecora's be-B ball wouldn't be just an instructional tool, it could help ensure the survival of Braille itself.
[Images courtesy of Pratt Institute]