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  • 01.25.17

These Maybe-NSFW, 3D-Printed Sex Organs Are Designed To Help Blind Students In Sex Ed

Blind students can’t get the same lessons from standard sex-ed curriculum of photos and movies. These models help them understand the anatomy by touch.

Later this year, teachers may be able to go into their school library and, for education purposes, 3D print a model penis.

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In a new project, researchers are testing the use of 3D-printed body parts in sex ed for blind students–who often struggle to understand the material when it’s taught traditionally. “Many of the kids who are blind, because much of the information is presented in photographs or videotapes, they miss out on key information that their peers are able to see,” says Lisa Wadors Verne, a program manager in education research and partnerships at Benetech, a nonprofit that focuses on social impact technology.

The nonprofit is working with researchers at Northern Illinois University and staff at San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind, to design and test a pilot set of models.

In the first stage of the pilot, blind college students at the university tested the models and gave feedback. Now, teachers with younger visually impaired students are beginning to test the models in classrooms.

“We want to test how much the student learned that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten from just listening to someone talk about this outloud,” says Verne. “The other thing we’re going to try to parse out on this too is how valuable is this–how much would a teacher be willing to spend on a model like this.”

The files will be available open-source, so teachers would only have to pay for the cost of materials and printing. Right now, comparable models that are available commercially cost hundreds of dollars. For an average classroom, they’re not affordable.

Most blind students attend school with sighted children, rather than a school for the blind, so resources to help them are typically limited. “They may be one or two of the only blind kids that ever go through a public school system,” Verne says. “Commercial models start at about $450 for these anatomical models. Schools simply are not going to pay that money for one or two students that they might have over the course of 10 years.”

The researchers will have preliminary feedback from classrooms by the end of the spring semester. Open-source files will be available soon after that, and the team also plans to offer customized, distributed models for a fee.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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