Being interested in woodwork as a hobby, I had already made several things for my two daughters - a baby walker, a rocking duck and a dolls house, just three of many before stumbling on the idea to use shapes to convey colour by touch.
I instantly realised the potential benefit this could bring to people who are blind, making it possible for virtually any board game using colour, to be made in a totally accessible tactile visual format.
I have been visually impaired from birth with two daughters at the time inheriting my eye condition. My attention was drawn to the need for something to be done about the provision of board games for people like us through the difficulties my daughters were having in playing games with their sighted friends from across the road. Although my daughters and I can see colour our poor vision made it difficult to play and enjoy most of the 'shop bought' games available at the time for a number of visual and tactile reasons. The only tactile games available at the time from the RNIB were devoid of any colour and mostly only for two players and unsuitable for our needs.
Examples of success in solving this problem are given here. This continuing success is through the commitment, which my wife, Deirdre and I have been and are still giving. We have partly financed it by reinvesting the income from the sales of our products and putting in our own investment.
The task of finding a way to convey colour by touch by matching colours to shapes as seen here, turned out to be the easy part of this R&D. The difficulty came in finding a way to produce the playing board itself giving adequate tactile information for the games we wanted to produce in equal tactile/visual graphics. This was ten years later. In the meantime, I was able to introduce a limited range from 1980 onwards in association with the RNIB, starting with the game of Ludo
The picture above shows the 10 coloured shaped playing pieces for board games. Each shape has a peg base to lock the piece on to the board and an indentation within the shape for the pieces to stack on top of each other.
Shaped coloured playing pieces
Before I was able to introduce the first board games in 1980, I realised that as well as producing the shapes for the playing pieces in board games, it would also be helpful to use this system for other purposes where easily identified shapes could provide a simple to use means to identify the colour of clothing and other items around the home. So in 1978, the initial shape colour system (later extended to 16 shapes and colours) was used to produce a range of colour indicating buttons, which we were able to introduce two years before the games.
Above is a picture of 16 coloured and shaped buttons
Shaped coloured buttons
In 1986, Deirdre and I developed a process and design concept to produce the first ever tactile/visual graphics conveying colour. We could now produce virtually any graphical board game where colour is the main element. Areas of printed colour could be shown by touch using the outline of the primary shapes. Finding a way to produce the game of Snakes & Ladders in an equal tactile/visual way was at the heart of this success.
Compatible tactile/visual Dice
In 1982, with the help of the local tool maker/plastics manufacturer who produced the pegs and buttons, I was successful in providing the first ever fully tactile/visual dice. This was essential in my aim to provide a tactile visual result. To this day, these are still the only equally accessible tactile/visual dice produced. However, the mantle for producing these dice was passed to John Crane Ltd in 2006. This has been done to secure the long-term future availability of these dice. It also saves us from the tiring process of printing the dots on these dice that we had undertaken for over 20 years.
Above is a picture of two standard 1 to 6 dice.
The key to this successful outcome involved the development of a new method to produce tactile graphics. This was a major breakthrough which took three years to achieve. We were helped by the encouragement and support of the London Design Council. For ten years until 1990, Deirdre and I produced the games ourselves from home. Then from 1990 they were commercially produced using this tactile visual printing process. Since 2000, the games have been produced in Thailand using a different tactile printing method.
Above left - picture of Ludo
Above right - picture of Snakes & Ladders
In Snakes and Ladders note the use of the triangle shape in the graphics of this game. This communicates the colour of the pink squares but clearly defines the direction of the zigzag movement of the pegs up the board. In Ludo note the use of the outer line of the four shapes to provide a tactile graphical image of the coloured areas of play on the board. These shape outlines also provide a visual reference to colour for people who are colour-blind.
The need for blind people to have access to the printed word has been long recognised. But the need and the social advantage for blind people to have a means to relate to colour by touch has so far in the main been unappreciated. This is an issue that is linked to all the projects in which I have an interest. Finding people with the necessary skills to assist in evaluating this issue is another objective towards achieving equal accessibility.
Understanding the need for blind people to be able to relate to colour
Accessible location and wayfinding signage
Equal accessibility by design is the latest challenge we have undertaken to provide accessible signage in a public building. This is called 'PIE' - Peripheral Image Enhanced signage. As with the board games, the objective is to achieve tactile visual equality by design and not adaptation. The need to marry the two in to a single design is in its self a new challenge.
This latest idea is for a cube that can be formed to create any combination of colour from ten colours related to embossed symbols. The dots of the embossed symbols are of a similar standard to Braille. The major difference is these are three dimensional symbols along the same lines of the shape colour system. As with the wayfinding project, evaluation of the GTB idea will be needed before any further development can be undertaken.
A means to develop tactile perception before going on to learn Braille can be increased by the visual input of colour. Two products are already in mind to achieve subtle interactive play activity. The objective is to find a means to stimulate tactile perception without any specialist knowledge. Success here could make a big change to the decline in the use of Braille, and make tactile perception a fun activity before the need to learn Braille becomes a reality.