How Is 3D Printing Benefiting The Visually Impaired?
Many improvements to the quality of human life can be traced to technological advancements. For example:
- The mobile phone has become available worldwide. Because of its decreasing cost and because it is easy to use, families and friends now depend on the mobile phone as an indispensable tool for communicating and for exchanging personal information, pictures and videos.
- Invention of robotic surgery has made many life threating diseases treatable, because many complex surgical procedures can now be performed non-invasively and remotely.
- Portable computers, smartphones and tablets have improved the quality of education, and the availability of the internet has made online education available worldwide.
- Soon, driverless cars could become reality, thereby improving traffic safety and reducing the need for traffic law enforcement.
Unquestionably, 3D printing is another technological advancement that is improving the quality of human life. For example:
- Utilization of 3D printing in the product development cycle reduces time to market, thereby reducing manufacturing costs and reducing the cost of manufactured goods.
- Manufacturing certain types of customized products has become easier compared to traditional methods. For this reason, customized products such dentures, crowns, jewelry and toys can be produced quickly and efficiently by 3D printing instead of by manual crafting.
- 3D printing makes it easier to manufacture personalized prostheses and artificial limbs.
There are many more benefits that 3D printing provides that are not mentioned within the scope of this short article.
The focus of this article is to examine how 3D printing improves the quality of life for a blind or vision impaired person. To appreciate what this means, it is helpful to review methods that are currently used to improve the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired.
- What traditional methods exist for helping the visually impaired?
- Why is efficient use of other senses indispensable for the visually impaired?
- How is 3D printing benefiting the visually impaired?
What Traditional Methods Exist For Helping The Visually Impaired?
- The “white cane” has been used for a long time by the blind and visually impaired as a mobility tool. The cane is used to detect obstacles in the path of the user, and to scan for known objects that will guide the user to navigate a known path.
- Guide dogs are trained to lead blind people around obstacles while the person performs as the navigator. Typically, the blind person knows what path to navigate, and the dog leads the person.
- Braille is a touch-based system that the blind use to read and write. It consists of arrangements of dots which make up letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks. Braille has become so popular and effective that many braille-based educational tools are available for blind students. For example, braille writers (similar to typewriters) are available for blind students. Also, the braille-based slate and stylus is available as a portable device for taking notes.
- Audio books are now available to both the visually impaired as well as to people with good vision. Audio books are suitable for reading large volumes of material, and they are available as electronic files, tapes, CDs and DVDs.
Why Is Efficient Use Of Other Senses Indispensable For the Visually Impaired?
Normal quality of life requires the effective use of the five senses: vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Use of the senses enables a person to interact with objects, people and the environment, and to obtain and process information.
Vision is arguably, the most important of the senses for these reasons:
- Neurologists say that vision is the most dominant sense because it is much easier to understand objects around us by seeing them, rather than by hearing, smelling, tasting or touching them.
- About 80% of information that a person processes comes through vision.
Another argument ranks the sense of touch above vision. The main argument that supports this argument is that the loss of the sense of touch is more life threatening than the loss of vision. Loss of the sense of touch means that a person cannot use pain to avoid dangerous situations that can cause bodily harm. For example, a leper can step on a nail or burn a hand in a fire without feeling pain.
Without the sense of touch, it becomes impossible to give and receive physical affection such as hugs and kisses from family and friends. Furthermore, it is a known fact that physical contact at an early age is essential for the development of humans and animals.
It is clear that both vision and touch rank at the top of the five senses. It therefore makes sense that the person who is vision impaired needs to rely heavily on the sense of touch to compensate for loss of vision. 3D printing is providing the technology for the visually impaired to use the sense of touch to better interact with their surroundings.
How Is 3D Printing Benefiting The Visually Impaired?
The following list highlights a few significant benefits that 3D printing provides for the visually impaired:
- 3D printing makes it possible to print devices and prostheses that help the blind to walk, grip objects, or perform tasks that were previously difficult or impossible for them.
- Museums now print works of art and artifacts that blind children can be touch and feel.
- 3D printed braille maps are used by blind students to navigate college campuses.
- Braille labels are now being 3D printed on surfaces of objects to help the visually impaired. This is especially useful for blind students studying physics, botany or biology where the use of touch is used as a substitute for lack of vision.
Soon, it is likely that free 3D braille printing software could become available for the individual. Should this happen, and should the cost of 3D printers continue to decrease, it will become common to print many customized braille-labelled objects that will improve the quality of life for the blind and visually impaired.