3D prints support communication for visually impaired children in South Tees

3D prints to help visually impaired children communicate have been developed by The James Cook University Hospital and are now in use at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The models are made from thin layers of polylactic acid and include different shapes, textures and raised symbols. The colour, shape and texture of each item indicates the word category, whilst raised symbol and braille indicate the word itself.

They are being used within the paediatric speech and language therapy service at the trust to aid the communications skills of children living with visual impairments. The models provide a way to communicate for children who are unlikely to ever develop spoken language due to complex needs. The team are using the models to teach key phrases such as ‘go’, ‘stop’, ‘like’ and ‘not’.

In total there are 36 internationally agreed shapes, words, textures and colours, with the possibility of creating more 3D models if children have specific needs.

The project started from the medical physics department at the James Cook University Hospital, where the 3D printing lab is used to make anatomy models to help surgeons plan procedures.

Specialist speech and language therapist Joanna Henfrey said: “These new 3D prints are going to make a massive difference. Before this our colleagues who are specialist teachers for children with visual impairment would make paper cards and would either use objects on them or attach a piece of string to them in the shape of the symbol. They weren’t practical and would not last more than a couple of uses so this is going to be a huge help.”

The models have been created by Dave Ferguson, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at James Cook. He commented: “It’s really exciting to develop our first communication tool. When were approached by Joanna we were determined to make her vision a reality. We welcome all the opportunities we can get to help with clinical problems, especially when they are affecting day to day activities and our patients in the community.”