Students who are blind or visually impaired learn to maneuver through academic life in different ways. There are many technology devices that can help them with reading and writing. These items assist them so they can become independent readers and writers. What has been a problematic area in the past for these students is something that needs to be more visual. How do you take abstract ideas that are visual and make them connect to blind and visually impaired students?
3D technology is assisting teachers in bridging the gap for these students. As this form of technology is improving, it is allowing us to take abstract ideas and transform them into hands-on learning tools. When a 3D printer makes something, it is tactile and allows a visually impaired student to investigate it for themselves. In the past, students were able to use raised-line drawings to help them. The drawback with these is simple: it may add a third dimension to the drawing, but it does not help them with perspective.
Now science and math concepts are able to become more real for visually impaired students thanks to 3D printers that make them models. At this point, different groups have been working on a wide variety of 3D concepts for visually impaired students to use. These include models of simple math tools, the Hubble Telescope, 3D printed map of a neighborhood, and other physics and math objects. Examples for a science teacher may be different shapes from a 3D printer. These could be cones, cylinders, cubes, and more that all have the same volume. The model would need to be hollow on the inside and have an open side. This allows visually impaired students to put water inside the shapes to demonstrate equal volume in different shapes. This has now been successfully done and used in classrooms.
With the promise of this helping students, schools should reach out to makerspace locations to assist their needs. Some makerspace locations may be in colleges, libraries, or independent. The key is that most will have 3D printers. In addition to this, the people may be willing to help with 3D printing for your needs or assist you in purchasing a 3D printer. The community is key in getting this rolling in smaller areas to help a wider number of visually impaired students. Think as a community and reach out to other teachers to see how they are utilizing this within their classrooms.