BrainCraft/YouTube

WATCH: Here’s how LEGO is helping blind people to 'see'

Sensory superheroes.

JACINTA BOWLER
27 OCT 2016
 

 

Those 2,000-piece LEGO kits aren’t easy to build as a person with sight, but imagine doing it all by following text instructions, and never even seeing a piece. That’s how Matthew Shifrin, who’s been blind since birth, has been building LEGO sets since his 13th birthday – and he’s figured out how to visualise what the monuments and other buildings look like.

 

As Vanessa Hill from BrainCraft explains in the video above, Matthew has created a website with a growing list of text instructions for LEGO sets to help other blind people enjoy building LEGO.

But does feeling out these LEGO structures actually help Matthew 'see' as a sighted person would? Neuroscience suggests it’s a bit more complicated than that.

As the video explains, the brains of blind individuals have been able to 'repurpose' themselves to use the visual cortex in other ways, so while they might not be seeing in the true sense of the word, they can still get a whole lot of information from that region.

One recent study asked people who were blind from birth to solve algebra, and as the problems became harder, the visual cortex was used more - something that didn’t happen in the sighted control group.

Another study found that an audio-only version of the video game DOOM helped blind participant’s spatial cognition – basically, they were able to use their environment to figure out where they were using just noise.

Using LEGO seems to help in the same way.

 

"LEGO is able to give you all of these different opportunities be you blind or sighted to perceive your world in a different way. It’s like this miniaturisation of the real world that you could potentially recreate in real life," Matthew explains in the video. 

"And it also really allows to give the blind person a sense of scale. It allows you to see what you would be unable to feel. You can’t climb on the Taj Mahal or the Tower Bridge or any of these famous landmarks, but with these sets you’re able to recreate them in their full glory."

So can LEGO make blind people see how sighted people see? Well in some ways - yes, and what it does to the brain might be even cooler.

I’ll let the BrainCraft video above explain how that works, and show you exactly how hard it is to build a LEGO set without vision.

All we’ll say is, keep an eye out for these sensory superheroes.

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