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A Blind Man Fulfills Mission To Make Legos Accessible For Visually Impaired


A few months ago, we told you a story about a special project by Lego, the Danish toy company that makes all those plastic bricks. Lego decided to make Braille bricks to make it easier for visually impaired people to have fun with them. We have an update. This week, Lego released new audio and Braille instruction manuals for some of their sets. They're available to download from their website. The sets can be used through the computer or with different devices to interpret them. The idea came from Matthew Shifrin, a 22-year-old Lego enthusiast from Massachusetts who is blind.

MATTHEW SHIFRIN: Find one dark green 2-by-6 brick. Put it knob side down vertically on the table. Then find three black 2-by-2 plates with side connectors and put these plates knob side down on top and starting from the back.

MARTIN: That is Shifrin reading from the new set of Braille instructions. And here's what the computer audio version sounds like.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Next, we will build the escape car with flames. Find one black wagon bottom 4-by-10 with four side connectors. Put it...

MARTIN: Shifrin was instrumental in pushing the company to take this step. He's been building with Legos since he was 5 with the help of family and friends. But as a kid, he couldn't do it on his own because he couldn't see the graphics-based instructions.

SHIFRIN: I just built what I could, just kind of making things up.

MARTIN: That changed on Shifrin's 13th birthday thanks to a family friend named Lilya Finkel.

SHIFRIN: Lilya came over, and with her, she brought this big cardboard box and those big, fat binders, thick as a textbook. And in this big, fat box was an 843-piece Middle Eastern Lego palace. And the binder that she brought it had hand-Brailled instructions that she'd typed up on a Braille typewriter.

MARTIN: Shifrin says it was a game-changer for him.

SHIFRIN: For me, building a Lego set independently before this was about as likely as driving a car. And suddenly there it was. I could build these sets on my own. I realized that blind kids deserve this.

MARTIN: Shifrin and Finkel created more sets and launched a website to share them with others. But they couldn't keep up with the requests for more. Then Finkel was diagnosed with cancer, and the pair realized they needed help to take the idea further. So they reached out to Lego. Eventually the Danish company was interested and expanded on the original concept to include audio instructions.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Open the box. This can be tricky for everyone.

MARTIN: This week's release of the new audio and Braille instructions was a bittersweet moment for Matthew Shifrin, though. His family friend and partner in this project, Lilya Finkel, has since passed away. But Shifrin says her passion and creativity live on with a Lego project to be shared with others. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.