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AlESSANDRA D'Alessio ('14)

written October, 2016

A school project can truly be the beginning of a new adventure. Take it from VC alumna Alessandra D’Alessio (‘14). The current Ryerson University Interior Design student is making waves in the world of educational toys with her A’Design award-winning toy, Braille Blocks!

The A’Design Awards provides an international platform for companies, designers and innovators to present their well-designed products to the world. The competition presents an opportunity for fair, ethical and competitive discussion, and accepts projects from all design fields, from creators of all experience levels. The award-winning designs are presented at an awards gala and exhibition in Italy, which is well-covered by media outlets and members of the press. This is undoubtedly a wonderful opportunity to showcase a new product!

D’Alessio’s journey to the A’Design Awards began with a semester-long, open-ended project, which asked students to “design any product for a specific demographic and cater it to their needs.” With the freedom to choose their own focus, D’Alessio and her partner decided to explore the world of educational toys for visually impaired toddlers. By combining the theories of tactile learning and sensory boards with traditional wooden blocks, the pair was able to design and submit Braille Blocks to this year’s A’Design Awards. With the admirable goal of giving toddlers without the gift of sight the opportunity to associate everyday textures with words at the forefront of this project, many more children will now be able to learn through tactile means while still having fun!

So, how does it work? Each of the blocks is made out of birch wood and coated in child-safe, non-toxic mineral oil. Glued to four sides of each block is a piece of the same textured material, with the remaining two sides reserved for the laser printed top and base. Braille Blocks not only allows students with visual impairments the opportunity to explore new textures, but also to associate their names with the braille print laser printed on the wooden matching mat. Children are also encouraged to describe what they are feeling as they touch the different textures on the blocks, which helps with expression and making connections.

Braille Blocks is unique in that it accomplishes the goal of allowing blind or visually impaired children the opportunity to experiment with tactile learning, while matching textures to their corresponding names and meanings.

Congratulations on your outstanding accomplishment Alessandra! Braille Blocks will surely enrich the learning of many blind or visually impaired students. We look forward to hearing of the continued success of Braille Blocks!

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