1. Introduction to 3D-Printing with VI-Learners

Table of Contents

The benefits of tactile models in teaching learners with a vision impairment are undeniable as you can see in our series of videos on this website. But why should learners themselves design 3D models on the computer and print them with a 3D printer?

At first glance, the ability to see is essential for working with computer graphics and modelling. However, in this report, we would like to show that such tasks can also be carried out by people with a vision impairment when using code- or block-based approaches and when the appropriate pedagogical and technical support is provided.

There are many reasons for considering these possibilities and then implementing them in educational contexts. The foremost reason is to ensure the participation and equality of opportunity in the widespread and rapidly growing field of 3D design for the 60 million people with a severe vision impairment worldwide. However, currently, hardware and software still require in-depth knowledge and strong nerves when it comes to user-friendliness and accessibility. Learners with a vision impairment can currently only use the standard software and hardware to a limited extent.

In this report, we will show how accessibility can be improved by means of methodological decisions, the selection of the right software and hardware components, and adaptations.

Our suggestions are based on experiences that we have gathered in various activities with learners at the Deutsche Blindenstudienanstalt (blista) in Marburg, and that we have been able to supplement with the expertise of our partners in the Erasmus+ project 3D4VIP. To more accurately outline the basis of our recommendations, in section 2, we will first describe the target group in detail to understand the special requirements that learners with a vision impairment bring and what they need to learn in order to be able to dive into the world of 3D printing. We will then proceed to present the didactic framework of our four different student activities and provide information on methodology in section 3 of the report.

In section 4, we will then summarise our findings concerning accessibility of software and hardware. 3D printers have many buttons and control panels that can only be operated visually. In section 4, we describe our experiences with alternatives to enable the whole printing process to be operated as autonomously as possible by users with a vision impairment.

We then take a step back and look at the question of how learners with no vision can receive feedback on their models during the construction process. Here too, for the sake of equal participation, we have looked for alternatives to give our learners the same opportunities as their sighted peers, who can inspect their models visually on screen at any time. To this end, in section 5, we present an optional way of generating virtual haptic feedback.