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Meet the educator using LEGO to teach braille

Playing LEGO with her younger brother Simon in the sunroom of their Queenslander family home were some of Melissa Fanshawe’s best memories as a child.

Forty years later, she is still playing with LEGO, but this time to build a better future for blind and vision impaired Australian children, one LEGO brick at a time.

Ms Fanshawe, an inclusive education researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, will be at the forefront of the roll out of LEGO’s new version of its iconic plastic bricks in Australia.

LEGO Braille Bricks will give children who are blind or have low vision the chance to develop tactile skills and learn the braille writing system in a fun new way.

Ms Fanshawe was selected as Vision Australia’s education ambassador for the special new bricks, which will be introduced in the country this month.

The role will see her champion ways to improve learning opportunities for Australian children who are blind or have low vision, using the LEGO Braille Bricks. She will assist Vision Australia to deliver training sessions and assist educators to understand how children can develop essential braille literacy and numeracy skills.

“I was honoured to be chosen because I believe in braille, I love LEGO and I am really passionate about children having access to education,” Ms Fanshawe said.

“Learning through play provides countless possibilities and I feel I can help many children who are blind or have low vision to learn braille in a new and exciting way.”

Australia will be among the first countries to launch the LEGO Braille Bricks with hundreds of toolkits to be distributed by Vision Australia to schools and institutes that have children who are blind or have low vision.

Designed by LEGO Foundation, each kit contains more than 300 bricks covering the full alphabet, numbers 0-9, and select literacy and mathematical symbols.

A former school principal, Ms Fanshawe has been a long-time advocate for students to have access to braille, even before the birth of her son Oliver, 13, who was born with a rare, congenital eye condition.

She has worked with children who are blind or have low vision for the past 20 years and said LEGO was the perfect learning tool for teachers and parents.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea because what kid doesn’t like LEGO?” Ms Fanshawe said.

“They are fun which makes it easier to engage children with hands-on learning, braille literacy at an early age, and develop social and cognitive skills, problem-solving and fine motor skills.

“New technology, such as screen readers and virtual assistants, have changed the way people who are blind or have low vision read, but learning braille is just as important as teaching sighted children to read written words.

“Without it you can lose a lot of key literacy skills like spelling and punctuation which these children need not just to succeed at school, but to carry out day-to-day tasks when they get older.

“What I love most about the LEGO Braille Bricks is how it engages all students together to be able to play and learn.

“I look forward to working with Vision Australia to re-ignite braille in learning.”

More information about accessing LEGO Braille Bricks and training can be found on the Vision Australia website.

woman with kids and lego
University of Southern Queensland’s Melissa Fanshawe has been chosen as Vision Australia’s education ambassador for LEGO Braille Bricks.