At first glance you might think the 3D prints were brightly coloured toys.
But if you look closer, you will notice that they are different shapes, have different raised symbols on the top of them and have different textures around the sides of them.
The models are made of thin layers of a biodegradable material called polylactic acid and were printed in The James Cook University Hospital’s 3D printing lab.
They are being used by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s paediatric speech and language therapy service to support the communication skills of children with visual impairments in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland.
The item’s shape, texture and colour indicate the word category while it’s raised symbol and braille tell you the word.
In total there are 36 internationally agreed words, shapes, colours and textures.
The team use the symbols to teach children, from as young as one year old, key words and phrases such as ‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘like’ and ‘not’.
“These new 3D prints are going to make a massive difference,” said highly specialist speech and language therapist Joanna Henfrey.
“Before this our colleagues who are specialist teachers for children with visual impairment would make paper cards and would either use objects on them or attach a piece of string to them in the shape of the symbol.
“They weren’t practical and would not last more than a couple of uses so this is going to be a huge help.”
How it all started
The medical physics department at James Cook regularly use the 3D printing lab to make anatomy models to help surgeons plan their procedures.
The production line was the brainchild of Dave Ferguson, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at James Cook.
“It’s really exciting to develop our first communication tool,” he said.
“When were approached by Joanna we were determined to make her vision a reality.
“We welcome all the opportunities we can get to help with clinical problems, especially when they are affecting day to day activities and our patients in the community.”
Following this initial stage if any children have specific needs more 3D models can be designed and printed.