Engineering Professor Creates 3D Yearbook For Blind Students

May 14, 2018

Students with visual impairments generally don’t look forward to getting an annual class yearbook. But thanks to an engineering professor at Mercer University, this staple of the high school experience is available at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon.

Professor Sinjae Hyun last Wednesday presented seven graduating seniors with the first 3D yearbook ever created. The project is the first of its kind in the world, Hyun said.

“I searched, I Googled it — touch 3D, touchable yearbook, yearbook for blind — There’s nothing there,” Hyun said.

Hyun and his students knew Mercer’s engineering department had the technology to help the community, but they weren’t sure exactly how to start.

That changed when Hyun visited a conference and heard about images printed for blind people. The Academy for the Blind administrators approved of Hyun’s idea to build a 3D yearbook, Hyun said.

Hyun said the project took a little more than 150 combined hours over three months to complete. Cindy Gibson, the school superintendent, said she was honored Hyun would take on this project for the school and its students.

A 3D yearbook allows students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon to experience a rite of passage.
Credit Matthew Causey / GPB News

She described the books as a chance for blind students to enjoy a rite of passage that they knew about but never experienced.

“This is the next level of accessibility for our students,” Gibson said.

The yearbook consists of a board with plastic 3D printings of the students’ faces screwed onto it. When students touch the braille nameplates pasted beneath each printed face, blind classmates recognize each other.

Angel Lopez, one of the graduating seniors at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, said he was on board with the idea when he first heard about it and, after getting to see the finished product, was satisfied with the result.

“Whereas traditional yearbooks would just be, you know, a book with a — probably a picture, your name under it. You know, printed stuff,” Lopez said. “I guess different pages for every person.”

Lopez said he plans to put the yearbook on his wall to display in his room and that the Academy’s graduating seniors next year should, “consider doing it and that they will really enjoy this experience.”

The project is planned to continue as an annual project between the Georgia Academy for the Blind and Mercer University’s engineering school.

“I’m so proud of this creating a lasting memories for them,” Hyun said. “So this is my kind of happiness here.”