Coal Ridge student uses 3D printers to fix school’s Braille signs
Coal Ridge High School freshman Olive Byman noticed something was a little off when she began scouting the school’s Braille signage.
“I was feeling the Braille outside of the doors,” Byman said. “And I was like, ‘Whoa, this is not right.’”
Byman suffered a stroke at age 3, and ensuing MRIs detected a brain tumor that needed to be removed. The tumor crushed her left optic nerve, causing her to go blind.
To this day, Byman has limited vision out of her right eye, she said.
Before entering her freshman year of high school, Byman had to scout schools in an effort to ensure the Braille systems were up to snuff.
When Byman began scouting Coal Ridge High School, she noticed various inaccuracies with its Braille system. Though certified by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Braille signs were spelled incorrectly and punctuation was out of place.
“I’ve been touring the school for so long before I came here, so I kind of know all these places here,” Byman said. “But it’s handy for the visually impaired.”
Byman mentioned this to the administration, which quickly got to fixing the issue.
Then Coal Ridge senior Conner Harte pitched in.
Using three-dimensional printers available in Coal Ridge instructor Jeremy Heiser’s technology innovation class, Harte has spent the past school year making new Braille signs for the school.
Tinkering with an arsenal of 3D printers in essentially his own work station reserved in a corner of Heiser’s class on April 14, Harte said he began the 2021-22 school year possessing zero knowledge of this new technology.
“I started from nothing using a program called SketchUp,” he said. “It’s just a basic 3D design program, and I figured out how to design these plaques from scratch.”
Saving the Garfield School District Re-2 heavy costs for replacing the signs, Harte personally acclimated himself to 3D technologies and is printing out signs to be hung all over the school.
“I love the idea to create something out of nothing,” Harte said.
One the most pivotal moments of this monthslong project came when Harte figured out a way to expedite the process. Heiser originally began manually placing dots onto signage. That is, until Harte found an open-source software that converted text directly into Braille.
Unsurprisingly, Harte just accepted an offer from Colorado State University to study mechanical engineering.
“Being able to support (the visually impaired) and being able to make their student life even just a little bit easier is a really good thing,” Harte said.
Heiser said Coal Ridge started its 3D printing program just this school year. Instead of spending significant amounts on printers operated at the push of a button, the school purchased printers that challenge the students to engineer, troubleshoot and generally develop skills vital to their future success.
“You have to explore how to make this happen,” Heiser said. “The engineering design process is in play and in every kid’s mind every single day. There’s no better practical way to do that.”
Heiser said Harte is also writing out the 3D printing system for incoming students to use as a framework for future projects.
“I don’t want to know everything he knows,” Heiser said of Harte. “But I want the next kid to be able to succeed because things are gonna break, things are gonna fall off the walls.”
Once Harte finishes this volunteer project, he estimates printing more than 100 signs.
When Byman graduates, she said she wants to enter culinary school and one day open her own cafe. In the meantime, she can’t help but appreciate Heiser and Harte’s efforts in making the school a better place to learn.
“I’m excited to see the new plaques,” she said. “They’re coming up and going to be going around the school soon, so that’s exciting.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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