Jan 5, 2018 | By David

One of the less-heralded advantages of 3D printing technology is the way that it can open up new opportunities for blind or partially-sighted people. The ease with which digital images can now be converted into physical objects is something that people who rely mostly on the sense of touch can benefit from, and we’ve reported previously on the 3D printing of ultrasound scans during pregnancy, amongst other things. A new French initiative will see the establishment of a library of 3D printed anatomical parts, to help out the significant number of blind and partially-sighted people employed in massage and physiotherapy.

In France, 1.7 million people are affected by a visual disability, nearly 6,000 of whom are students. Half of these students are at university or in preparatory classes for the country’s prestigious grandes ecoles, and they are often left behind in terms of access to particular subject fields. Despite the neglect of a large part of society and of the employment market, the massage or physiotherapy professions remain relatively open to this demographic due to their inherent reliance on touch and tactility. Of the country’s 85,000 practitioners, around 2,000 are blind or partially sighted. As the job security in this field begins to seem more appealing with the growth in unemployment in France, particularly amongst the disabled, this proportion is likely to grow over the next few years.

The library project was launched by France’s GIAA (Groupement des intellectuels aveugles ou ambylopes) on Jan 4, which is World Braille Day. In collaboration with French industrial 3D printing giant Dassault Systemes, the organization will create an extensive collection so far of 3D printed anatomical parts. These will be helpful for blind and partially-sighted students of massage and physiotherapy. During their education, they might have limited access to human subjects, and they are not able to get to know the body through images of any kind. These 3D printed models, based on 3D scanned digital images, will provide them with this opportunity. They will faithfully represent the mobility of various important joints, such as the knee or the elbow, demonstrating how they work in all their complexity. These tools will also be accompanied by explanatory guides and information provided in Braille.

This educational initiative is aimed at setting up the blind and partially sighted for a promising future career, more effectively than was previously possible. Initially the library will be a relatively small collection of models and information, but this could grow if the project proves to be a success. Dassault Systemes has provided a grant to the GIAA to launch the pilot version of the project, as it wants to promote 3D technology and the powerful learning opportunities that if offers. President Thibault de Tersant declared that he first wanted to gather the opinions and expectations of the students that the library is aimed at, before proceeding any further.

3D printing technology means that these invaluable tools will be easily reproducible, at a relatively low cost. The prototypes will be used to test out the feasibility of the scheme, with universities, primary schools and secondary schools all getting involved. "Our approach is both innovative and of general interest as it could extend to other areas of education," says Pierre Vassal, the GIAA project director.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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