After learning that his daughter suffers from Usher Syndrome, a degenerative disease that leads to blind- and deafness, Jake Lacourse channeled his anguish into the development of a fun educational toy that would teach 2-year-old Becca braille.
To those untouched by it, it may be surprising to learn that the leading cause of deaf-blindness is Usher Syndrome. A hereditary genetic disorder, the signs of Usher Syndrome (night blindness, gradual deterioration of vision, complete or partial and deteriorating hearing) typically manifest in the young.
In current medicine the disorder is largely untreatable. For Jake Lacourse, a product engineer from Massachusetts, USA, learning that his 2-year-old daughter Becca suffered from the most aggressive form of Usher Syndrome proved a turning point.
A key element of easing the transition to a vision and hearing-impaired life is recognizing the signs early, and education. With Becca diagnosed as likely to lose her sight as a teen, Lacourse set about using his experience to help her in every way possible.
“We recognized there was nothing really out there for her… We wanted to create a special toy for her” he explains. And a special toy is exactly what he created. Currently only a prototype, the BecDot is an educational aid that teaches children the braille for a variety of words and letters.
The BecDot is a tablet-sized box with an NFC pad next to four areas with motorized pins. Connected to a phone running the BecDot’s proprietary app, parents or teachers can program in words, characters and various concepts of braille, which are then translated to the array of pins which raise up above the surface of the box.
In addition, NFC tags (readable by the BecDot) can be stuck to any favorite toy and programmed into the app, allowing for familiarity to be interwoven into the child’s learning of braille.
Testing the design with Becca, Lacourse’s use of 3D printing for the shell of the device proved a wise decision. Tested to destruction (as most parents of toddler’s will attest to) this fed back into the BecDot’s design, with the current shape one Becca has yet to destroy.
Such is the potential benefit of Lacourse’s BecDot, it was presented at the Consumer Electronics Show in January by the Not Impossible Foundation. As the winner of The Not Impossible Limitless Award, it was one of a number of innovations the “bring positive change to the global community”.
There’s currently no word on a commercial release for the BecDot, but more information can be found on the BecDot website. Sticking to the original goal of affordability, Lacourse expects that the final version of the BecDot to cost approximately $100.
Tthe Lacourse family’s experiences with Usher Syndrome and information on charity’s seeking a cure can be found here.
(Top image credit: Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
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