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Printing Possibilities: 3D Printers Enrich Learning for Students with Visual Impairment
By Jillian M. Pritts, CFRE

A fact of life for students with visual impairment is that they have to deal with the burden of getting accessible materials before they can even tackle the content. For years, our educators and team members have invented, crafted or modified items by hand to help our boys and girls learn a concept and give them tactile access to whatever they need.

But the advent of 3D printing has created a new world of opportunities for visually impaired learners. The technology turns abstract ideas into tactile teaching aids for the visually impaired that can be modified exactly to the individual’s visual needs, abilities and preferences.

Thanks to generous support from the community, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children currently has eight 3D printers which will be a featured part of our newly established accessible STEM Lab. Assistive Technology Specialist Cecelia Manning and Equipment Specialist Molly Eads are trained to operate the machines and are excited about how equipment will benefit our students as well as the wider population of the visually impaired community.

“This technology directly impacts how we teach students who are blind or visually impaired. 3D printers are allowing us the opportunity to create precise, durable objects and diagrams that our students can interact with throughout the school day as they work on building their tactual and braille reading skills,” Manning said.

Our assembled teams of educators, therapists and health professionals recognize the limitless possibilities 3D printing presents for our students who confront significant challenges in addition to their visual impairment.  Customized tools and objects help with basic concept development, aiding communication, fine motor training and encouraging increased literacy.

Staff can now create tactile maps and book pages that include 3D objects and braille in order to create a more accessible learning experience. Therapists are creating adapted tools and parts for wheelchairs and other positioning equipment that doesn’t exist or are discontinued but necessary for our students.

This customization allows us to create exactly what each student needs, enhancing their daily lives and learning. Plans also include increasing student involvement by using 3D printing to challenge them to imagine and create their own solutions. WPSBC is eager to harness this potential to create innovative solutions that have a lasting impact our students.

To learn more, contact the Western Pennsyslvania School for Blind Children at (412) 621-0100, email prittsj@wpsbc.org or visit www.wpsbc.org.

Jillian Pritts is Coordinator of Development and Communications, Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.

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