A couple of months ago, the LEGO Foundation Launched a pilot program to test audio instructions – a tool to enable visually impaired children to build LEGO® sets. In the current pilot program, Audio Instructions are available for LEGO Classic: 11001 Bricks and Ideas, LEGO Friends: 41365 Emma’s Art Studio, The LEGO Movie 2: 70821, Emmet and Benny’s ‘Build and Fix’ Workshop and the LEGO City 60207 Sky Police Drone Chase. I had a copy of 41365: Emma’s Art Studio, provided by the LEGO Group at my request earlier in the year, close at hand, so I thought I test the system out.
Now, I did not have a vision impaired person available close at hand on the afternoon I was looking to perform the build. However, I did not wish to make a mockery of the system, by blindfolding myself, and attempting to identify elements by feel, when I have no real experience of attempting to deal with LEGO bricks in this way.
So, I decided to keep the blindfold off, and have the parts in front of me for selection as the instructions called for them. I would use my laptop, with the lid partly closed, so I could not see the screen, to play the audio instructions.
To start with, I went to LEGOaudioinstructions.com, and selected the the list of sets available.
The language was reasonably clear, but impassive. and occasionally some phrases seemed to run words together, but it was no worse than any digital assistant’s voice to listen to.
The program started by reading out a rundown of the set, and the instructions for the audio instructions:
- Right arrow: read next instruction
- Left arrow: go back one step
- Space bar: repeat the most recently read line
- Down Arrow: start next section/subbuild
- Up arrow – return to start of current section/subbuild
- ‘C’ – color mode: toggle reading out the color of the part requested.
- H – read out these instructions
This is slightly different on the iPhone, where an up swipe reads the next line, down the previous. Left swipe: next section, right the previous section. Swiping with two fingers toggles color mode. Tap with two fingers fingers gives help.
I opened the box, which did give me an unfair advantage in knowing what to expect the final model to look like.
The box contained 2 bags, an instruction booklet and a sticker sheet.
I was delighted to see that apart from the minidolls and the canvas used at the end, there are NO exclusive elements in this set. The closest thing to a rare part would be the roof top sun shade, seen in the second bag.
The voice used by LEGO® Audio Instructions is emotionless and mechanical in its tone. Diction is clear, and before long, you understand a few conventions: The description considers the way you view a model from on top – with horizontal typically referring, in this set, to rows moving from front to back, and vertical referring to the appearance in columns. The other thing I needed to adapt to fairly quickly was referring to studs as ‘knobs’. There goes the habit of a lifetime.
Each section is introduced ‘We are going to build the ground floor; we will now build the doorway’ etc.
There are a couple of examples of Studs Not on Top (KNOT?) Building in this floor: the window shade, and the arch over the doorway. Each time you approach such a build, you are asked to ‘Careful, this build has a special orientation’
Construction of the ground floor was fairly straight forward, and before too long we had a shop floor, with some additional details provided by stickers. I will provide an example of how the program deals with stickers in the next section. But, if you wish to skip them, the introduction invites you to skip the next four sentences.
The building is 12 studs wide and six studs deep ( on 8 stud deep plates). I applied the large stickers onto the lilac panels, but none of the small stickers, which are used for signage, and furniture decoration. I was delighted to find a $100 bill, as well as a printed 2×2 slope brick functioning as a cash register.
As I moved into the second floor, I captured some of the instructions – visually and in audio, and have overlaid them on phots of the build as it progresses:
Lets start with some relatively mundane wall construction, but it does include different parts, in multiple colours:
I appreciate the suggestion to ‘Repeat symmetrically, on the other side’
As the second part proceeds, there are some special challenges: one aspect of the construction includes putting the windows into the window frames.
What about stickers? We have the option to place one on the wall panel at the end of the building.
The spoken instructions gives you the option to skip the next 4 sentences if you wish to skip past it. Amongst other things, it has the message E&P in a love heart. I suspect this is a reference to Emma’s relationship with Ethan, in the TV series. He has the ‘guerilla street artist’ alter ego ‘Pranksy,’ and seems to be developing a special relationship with the girls, Emma in particular..
There seems to have been a little confusion in the language for the construction of the pottery wheel – with a gear being inserted into an axle, and the hole in a stud being inserted into a bar, however, these were the only significant problems that I encountered in the descriptions.
As we complete the structure of the upper floor, we add a little greenery – a vine stuck on top of the building. Perhaps the gutters had not been cleaned, and the vine was seeded by a passing bird.
As we approach some of the finer detail, we find some odd sounding nomenclature…”Insert the twig into the top knob hole”. That said, foliage elements can be confusing enough when you can see the instructions! The warning of ‘this build has a special orientation’ makes sense to me, but I wonder how it might be approached by someone who has never seen an image of the final product.
After finishing the second floor, and furnishing the rooftop terrace, we build the easel. Consisting of a number of click hinges, as well as some SNOT work, it is remarkable just how many steps it takes to get this small piece of furniture together.
Held on via a couple of pins, is a small blue ‘canvas’. When wet, this fabric shop a pattern consistent with lots of paw prints over the fabric. Has Chico the cat decided to express himself?
I think that the final result is quite elegant. The building is compact, 12 studs wide and 6 studs deep, with a 2 stud footpath. The front step and door way adds some interesting detail to the front of the building, as does the use of profile bricks, and the alternating brick colours. For a technique so simple, the result looks really effective.
Overall, the building provides a great example of simple architectural detail – Doors, Windows, Brickwork, incorporating an Arch – in a compact footprint. There are a few stickers, but many are not essential. Especially if you move to incorporate this building in a compact modular style streetscape.
I like the model – It has no real exclusive elements, and could be readily adapted to a typically City colour scheme, should you wish. At $AUD39.99, the price is not as favourable as the roughly 25€ or USD25, but for that price I think it offers a reasonable building experience, a pleasing aesthetic result, and great inspiration for similar builds. I give the set 4 out of 5 Arbitrary Praise units.
As for the Audio instructions: I did not assess their use with the help of someone who was visually impaired, but I did use them as my primary method for building the model. As such, it took me between 90 minutes and 2 hours to build. The language used takes a little getting used to, as does the frame of reference (from above), when discussing horizontal rows and vertical columns. Knobs rather than studs came a cross as confusing to me, but ‘knob’ seems to be frequently used in the in house element libraries, so I will learn to live with it. There were some errors of syntax, which I am sure will be rapidly dealt with – with bricks and gears being inserted into rods and axles.
But, they gave me a reasonably clear idea as to how I was to proceed, and errors were few and far between. It would be far more challenging if I were relying solely on my sense of touch to identify the elements, but that was not my goal here.
I hope that the pilot scheme for LEGO Audio Instructions is successful, as I believe that it is a valuable program, well worth pursuing.
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the building process using LEGO Audio Instructions. Have you had the opportunity to use the system? Do you know a visually impaired person who has? Why not leave your comments below,
and until next time…
As mentioned above, the set Emma’s Art Studio was provided by theAFOL Engagement team at the LEGO Group for review and demonstration purposes. Provision of material for review does not guarantee a favourable review, and all thoughts are my own.