It All Began With Lego
by Beth Johnson
Perhaps he sat with one of his son's Lego blocks in hand, tossing it absently mindedly as he pondered his frustration with his son's inability to learn Braille.
At age 14, mastery still eluded his son despite the teachers' best efforts and individual instruction. In fact, almost everyone had given up on the son learning Braille. Though multiply impaired (including blindness), Kevin Murphy just could not bring himself to give up on the intelligence he believed lurked in his son's mind.
Maybe he stopped tossing it long enough to stare at the small building brick he held in his hand. Then he noticed it--that little brick had 6 circular pegs! [And] their configuration was the same as the Braille cell--three vertical on the left; three vertical on the right!! Since his son thoroughly enjoyed his Lego set, Kevin decided he'd risk it--turn them into Braille letters.
After he'd destroyed his son's Lego set, he enthusiastically called, "Hey, son, come look what I've done with your Lego set!" His son came excitedly to discover his dad had placed some of the Braille letters he'd made on the base that came with the set. Little by little his son actually did learn Grade 1 Braille.
Fourteen years passed before Kevin could afford to make [Tack-Tiles], trademark name, available commercially in 1995. Now they are available in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German literary code as well as Nemeth (for math), music, and computer Braille code--[yes there are that many different codes the Braille student must learn--each with their own rules].
An added benefit for students who are blind and study in an inclusive setting, Tack-Tiles have print letters corresponding to the Braille configuration on the tile. This enables sighted and blind students to interact. A good many sighted students are curious about Braille and will at least learn the alphabet.
Printed Tack-Tiles also enable the classroom teacher to teach the blind student whatever she is teaching to her sighted students.
I used Tact-Tiles to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (especially long division) to my blind students.
And to think that it all began with Lego.
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