Advocates for the visually impaired celebrate the announcement, as Braille literacy in the U.S. has steadily declined over the years. The toys, they say, will be a fun way for kids to learn and play.
"Who doesn't want an activity that they can do with their friends that's also educational?” Perkins School for the Blind assistant director of college success Kate Katulak told NPR.
Two nonprofits, the Danish Association of the Blind and the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, pitched the idea to Lego in 2011 and 2017, respectively. Ever since, Lego has embarked on joint projects with both associations, in addition to several other organizations for the visually impaired, to develop prototypes.
Each of the newly designed blocks will have studs configured with a letter or number from the Braille alphabet. The blocks will be compatible with the original Lego toys.
As Braille literacy and instruction has declined, educators have been searching for creative solutions to revive Braille education.
"More and more students who are blind or visually impaired are being mainstreamed in public schools," Katulak said. "Because emphasis is placed on the core curriculum ... there is little time left in the minds of some to teach Braille."
According to a study by the National Federation of the Blind, less than 10% of the 1.3 million legally blind Americans can read Braille, and “a mere 10% of children are learning it.” But in 1950, the organization noted that nearly half of all blind American children were taught Braille in schools, a vast majority of which were schools for the blind.
Though audio technology is one of the main drivers for the drop, Katulak argued that Braille still teaches kids important functions.
"Audio books are wonderful, but when you think about listening to an audio book, there's really important information that you're missing," she said. "You're not hearing how words are spelled, grammar, punctuation, where does a paragraph begin and end."
The new Braille Bricks are expected to commercial release in 2020.