‘The Braille Puzzle’ is a creative solution to enable blind or visually impaired people to practise Braille without the need for a sighted person to be present. The idea came about when Mark was working on a Braille poetry project with Blind Veterans UK (formerly St. Dunstan’s), a national charity providing crucial assistance to blind ex-service men and women and their families. Mark had approached Blind Veterans UK because he wanted to explore the idea of placing poetry in the form of Braille on public handrails and needed advice on using Braille.
To help Mark, Blind Veterans UK loaned him a pack of playing cards that are used by its residents to practise Braille. Each card had a picture with a Braille description in two of its corners. It occurred to Mark that it would not be possible for a blind person to use the cards unless a sighted person was present to confirm that the cards were identified correctly, which made it impossible for a blind person to practise Braille unassisted. As a result of this, Mark designed a jigsaw puzzle that overcomes the need for a sighted person being present when learning Braille. The four jigsaw puzzles shown below are artistic interpretations of the invention, created for exhibition. Each of these exhibition versions is made from laser cut steel with an industrial baked paint finish, generously fabricated by Brighton Sheet Metal Ltd, Brighton:
Mark Ware would like to thank Blind Veterans UK for its support and Brighton Sheet Metal Ltd (B.S.M.) for generously fabricating the exhibition versions of the Braille puzzle shown here. Mark would also like to offer special thanks to Peter Mannering at the Royal London Society for the Blind, for his assistance and expertise. Peter saw great potential for the Braille puzzle and developed ways in which it could be also used for the Moon alphabet.
‘Memory Puzzles’: Due to Mark’s stroke, he frequently encounters memory problems. His memory isn’t ‘lost’, but the access pathways to his memory have been damaged by his brain injury. Over recent years he’s successfully developed a number of strategies for accessing his memory whenever this problem arises. It was through this personal knowledge and experience that he developed the memory puzzles for a friend who’d had a devastating brain injury. During an early hospital visit, Mark and his wife Sara found their friend attempting to complete a large-piece children’s jigsaw puzzle. Her husband told them that prior to her brain injury she had enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, but now she was having problems completing even the simplest of puzzles and would often take over an hour to complete them.
Taking into consideration his own stroke-related memory problems and his friend’s love of jigsaw puzzles, Mark created a series of puzzles that were designed to prompt alternative ways of accessing memory and problem-solving. Although his friend was not able to calculate using numbers, she had retained the ability to count sequentially. Bearing this in mind, the first puzzle contained a number sequence and a series of coloured rows. The second version of the puzzle consisted of colour rows only:
When Mark and his wife first tried the two puzzles, it took them approximately two minutes to complete the first puzzle and almost seven minutes to complete the second puzzle. When the puzzles were presented to Mark’s friend in hospital, something remarkable happened: She completed the first puzzle in approximately 30 seconds and the second puzzle within a couple of minutes. Following this, Mark produced more puzzles for his friend that tested other routes to her memory. For example, by including names of familiar people and imagery of places she used to regularly visit. Each time the results were dramatic. Thankfully, eventually, Mark’s friend’s memory almost totally recovered and so the need for the memory puzzles ended. Mark believes that the memory puzzle concept offers significant potential benefits for other people who suffer memory loss caused by brain injury. His hope is to work with the medical profession to develop this work further. Braille Jigsaw Puzzle and Memory Puzzle designs, text, illustrations and photographs copyright Mark Ware 2011.