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The world at our fingertips

Thanks to a Queensland fundraising initiative, the world’s first braille globe will be preserved for a new generation.

Once the globe is 3D printed, we will be able to let people use it once more in the way it was intended. 

An ingenious world globe designed for visually impaired children in the 1950s is to be recreated using digital technology.

The original globe, made of wood and aluminium, with braille letters punched into the aluminium, is the last of its kind. Its design allows children to understand the shapes, sizes and locations of landmasses and oceans.

The globe was recently on show in State Library of Queensland’s (SLQ) Magnificent Makers exhibition.

A Queensland Library Foundation crowd-funding initiative, which raised $10,000, has ensured the invention will become available for vision-impaired children of a new generation.

The globe’s inventor, Richard “Frank” Tunley, was known as the “fairy godfather of blind children”. While few people may recognise his name today, the Queensland small business owner, who made window blinds for a living, spent his life working at his true passion: to improve education for the blind and visually impaired.

From the 1920s Frank was voluntarily involved with a local deaf and blind school, now Narbethong State Special School in Brisbane, and was politically active. He lobbied to make education compulsory for blind and deaf children in Queensland and saw this law passed in 1924.

Frank also made models, toys and games. These handmade items were used around Australia in the 1960s and, with help from the Queensland Braille Map and Model Club, were sent – free of charge – to schools for the blind all over the world.

In 1953, Frank was presented a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to the visually impaired. He continued his important work until his death in 1968, aged 89.

Anna Thurgood, Engagement Officer with the Queensland Memory Team at SLQ, says the original globe must be protected for future generations, which meant people were not allowed to touch it during the exhibition.

“The braille on the globe has almost been worn smooth by hundreds of children’s hands touching and ‘reading’ it over all the years it was used by Narbethong State Special School,” Anna says.

“Mr Tunley used a numbering system because he realised he wouldn’t be able to fit every country’s’ name on the globe’s exterior,” Anna says. “Each country has a number that corresponds to numbers on a series of ‘index’ boards fitted into slots in the globe’s stand.

“You find the number and read the country’s name and a short phrase or description of the country.”

The funds raised will be used to preserve the original globe and create high-resolution 3D scans. Using photogrammetry analysis, where measurements are taken from photographs to record complicated 3D designs, photographs of the globe will be taken from multiple angles to create a precise rendering of the original.

The recorded measurements can then be entered into a 3D printer, with new versions created from resin or plastic. Learning notes will be able to be shared internationally – carrying on Frank’s mission to make his inventions available for education around the world.

“Once the globe is 3D printed, we will be able to let people use it once more in the way it was intended,” Anna says. “I’m sure Mr Tunley would be very excited about this innovative use of new technology to carry on his vision for education.”

Words: Lachean Humphreys

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