How the Accessible Origami Project Came About

I had always been interested in arts and crafts, but my thirst for new ideas and

craft projects took on a life of its own once I became a mum.

As a totally blind adult with some degree of access to the Internet, I found myself

surfing the Internet at all hours. I was amazed at the world that opened up to me.

Thousands of sites popped up with a staggering amount of arts and crafts projects,

some more accessible than others.

I wasn't alone, it turns out. In 2007 a small crafts list was established called

"crafting without sight". Although some of us liked the more traditional crafts such

as knitting and crocheting, many of us were interested in paper crafts like scrap

booking, card making, quilting and sewing, cooking, decorating, and all kinds of

crafts that we could do with our kids.

Someone on the list mentioned origami and since it was around Valentine's Day, a

list member found some instructions on how to fold a paper heart. I tried the project,

but was not very successful. A few months later I thought of looking into origami

again, for some reason.

I remembered folding a paper plane or two and a fortune teller as a kid. I was curious.

I thought all I'd need is my hands, some paper and a hard, flat surface, and some

instructions, of course.

Visually impaired people have come a long way in terms of the development of technology

to give us access to computers and the Internet. I started searching for the keyword

"origami" and found a multitude of information - from craft sites with origami for

kids, to sites with hundreds of videos of people merrily folding away and sharing

their handywork with the world. To my dismay it became clear in a very short time

that, though the art of origami is all about folding paper with your hands, without

cutting or using glue, the instructions on how to fold stuff, from the simplest sailboat

to the most amazing models, are, for the most part, presented in a format known as


A fairly standardized system of visual representation (The Yoshizawa-Randlett-Harbin

system) has been developed and is being used worldwide in almost all modern books

on the art of paper folding.

As technology and the ability to represent pictures and drawings on-line, progressed,

many artists and authors from all over the world have made diagrams available for folding origami models on various websites across the Internet.

Sometimes, instructions consist of only drawings, while some people prefer to combine

visual elements like pictures and drawings with verbal instructions.

Files are often in gif or jpg formats, which is inaccessible to screen-readers. PDF

files are somewhat more accessible, but a lot depends on how the files have been


Even if one finds instructions that are accessible with screen-readers and is supported

by text descriptions, no sense can be made of the instructions since they refer,

to a lesser or greater extent, to the pictures or drawings accompanying them.

For instance, "fold the point up to the dotted line" tells me nothing while "bring

the top point down to meet the bottom point" makes sense without having to see a

picture or drawing.

As the case may be with many different crafts, probably the best way to learn origami

is to have someone else show you how to fold a model, after which you are usually

able to memorize the steps and, with practice, able to fold a model successfully.

Using this method, A visually impaired person would learn through touch, feeling

the other person's hands, the changing of the orientation of the paper and how each

fold is made, in order to visualize and memorize the folding process. Keep in mind

that the visually impaired person can also not view the end-product before starting

a project.

As communication, digital technology and social networking developed, so did sharing

anything and everything on the Internet, including crafts in general and origami

in particular.

What better way to do this than to use video sharing sites on the Internet? Unfortunately,

like with pictures and drawings, without sight, videos are, in fact, of little help.

Although many videos are accompanied by verbal instructions or transcripts of text,

it is very confusing without being able to see, amongst other things, the orientation

of the model and the direction of folding, etc.

Also, for models with more than 4 or 5 folds, it is often necessary to have instructions

to refer to, since it is easy to forget folding sequences, especially if you don't

fold a model on a regular basis.

I started to search more in depth and eventually found a few models I was able to

fold using text instructions only. Some sites had a few projects, often those for

kids and/or beginners, which I could puzzle out from the text that accompanied drawings

or pictures.

Due to the nature of the diagrams, containing many symbols and different types and

colors of lines, it seems to me that trying to represent these in braille, would

be extremely difficult, if not impossible at this point in time.

Also, producing graphical materials in braille is not only a highly technical process,

but also very expensive and time-consuming. In fact, I was not able to find any braille

books on the subject at all.

I was extremely fortunate to find a site that had some text instructions already


With the help of extensive description of folding sequences and methods, I spent

hours on this site, learning to fold simple models, which filled me with immense

pleasure and satisfaction, but I found myself struggling a lot as I started to move

on to more complex models,

It occurred to me that, though folding could be done using text only instructions,

clear explanation, not only of the steps, but also of their results were necessary.

I was becoming hooked, as most sites said I would.

Many of the models I was just unable to understand and the only way to learn to fold

them was with the help of a sighted family

member or friend.

Though this is one way to learn, I wanted to pursue origami in my own time and did

not want to be dependent on others in this regard. After all, arts and crafts are

all about being creative and challenging yourself by acquiring new skills.

I was starting to feel an overwhelming need to share what I had learnt.

I started to realize that, like with the diagrams, it would be very helpful to have

a more or less standard way of describing the folding process, using text instructions


In the meantime, one of our list members had bought a book and was asking her fiance

to teach her to fold some models.

Quite a few list members also expressed an interest in origami and I started to write

down some instructions for the models I was able to fold.

I found it necessary to first learn to fold a model and become familiar with all

the steps before I was able to write it down. I have used my own words and terms

for the most part, though I have based my presentation loosely on that followed by, in terms of the use of clear, simple language and more or less standard terms throughout.

I first thought of just compiling a list of sites where visually impaired people could find some text instructions, but as I found out more and more about origami,

it became clear to me that it would be best to create the instructions from scratch because it would be necessary to combine many methods and/or sources in order to create sets

of instructions that could work well, specifically for visually impaired people.

These include:

Searching for and deciphering text instructions where available;

- Asking for sighted help in understanding the folding of an entire model or certain

steps of the folding process. Friends and/or family would sometimes help and I also

hired an assistant to help teach me certain models after they had folded a model

using diagrams or other instructional methods.

- Only when I was able to fold a model with confidence, would I then try to write

down step-by-step text-only instructions while actually folding the model as a totally

blind person.

The next phase involved testing of my instructions by blind friends and volunteers,

so that I could clarify or correct any uncertainties or confusing instructions, etc.

My sincere gratitude goes to everyone who has helped me fulfil my dream of creating

this project. It is my hope that it will be to the benefit of many visually impaired

adults and children all over the world. For me, this is an ongoing project, since

there are, as yet, very little access for blind crafters to this art, while there

are more models than one could ever imagine, and more being added by talented people

all over the world on a daily basis.