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3D printed symbols as communication tools

Byrd working with student

3D Printed SymbolsMetcalf School vision teacher Margaret Byrd and speech-language pathologist (SLP) Rachel Wells are utilizing Project Core’s 3D printed symbols to promote communication with a preschool student on their caseload.

Each 3D symbol represents a core word by including a raised element, the printed word, and the braille word. The instructors are introducing this communication tool with the symbol for “more.” The student with a visual impairment is learning to use the symbol to communicate the desire to have “more” time with a favorite toy or learning activity.

When teaching the use of the 3D printed symbol, the teacher or SLP places it in the student’s dominant hand and says the word “more” while brushing the student’s fingers across the symbol. The student learns to reach and place the symbol in the teacher or SLP’s hand, with a touch prompt from a second teacher or SLP, to receive more time with her favorite toy. To continue the communicative exchange of symbol for desired item, the teacher/therapist removes the toy and then places the symbol near the student’s body, and the student uses the symbol to request “more” by grabbing it and holding it out to the communicative partner, with a touch cue from a second teacher or SLP if needed.

The team plans to introduce additional symbols when the student shows understanding that the symbol has communicative meaning. At this point, the student is at the beginning stages of learning braille, so the teacher and SLP are utilizing the raised design element to assist with tactual understanding and communication. The teachers note that the symbols allow for a diverse population of vision students’ use because they include both the raised design elements and braille.

The Metcalf School PTO purchased two 3D printers this year, and Byrd saw the opportunity for her students to expand their learning through touch and feel with this new technology. Metcalf is well on its way to helping their students with visual impairments experience concepts and augment communication with the help of 3D printing.

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