Back in 2010, thirteen-year-old Matthew Shifrin wanted to build a LEGO castle. Following the LEGO building instructions at the time, which consisted only of photographs, was just about impossible for someone blind, like Matthew. Fortunately, his babysitter Lilya Finkel stepped in and gave him a binder of Braille instructions she had written for him of the “Battle of Alamut” castle LEGO set. Due to the duo’s efforts since then, LEGO announced in August 2019 that it has created a pilot program for audio and Braille instructions.
Matthew was a LEGO fan from early on as a child but always required the assistance of another person to follow LEGO building instructions. Thanks to Lilya, he was able to finish builds without any help. “This is extremely important for blind children because there aren’t a lot of places where we can say, ‘Look Mom and Dad! I built this on my own… I did this, ’” Shifrin said in a news announcement from LEGO. He further explained that blind children can’t use photographs, and as a result, miss out on a lot of knowledge available to sighted people.
Matthew quickly realized he wanted to help other blind children in the same way. Together with Lilya, he worked for years to create instructions accessible through screen readers for other LEGO sets, and published them on a “Lego for the Blind” website.
Shifrin contacted LEGO and was introduced to their Creative Play Lab group. The group moved his idea further along which resulted in the development of software that translates the visual building instructions to text, which can then be converted to Braille and audio.
LEGO’s pilot program offers free online instructions in English for four sets from LEGO Classic, LEGO City, LEGO Friends, and LEGO Movie 2. Customers can listen to audio instructions directly, through their screen readers, or access them through a Braille reader. LEGO will use feedback gathered until the end of 2019 to make changes and improvements. Its goal is to eventually offer instructions for every set it sells and in additional languages.