Six Lake Washington School (LWSD) middle school girls are underway with a project that has the potential to make a difference on the Eastside and beyond.
Anika Joshi, Sawar Saini, Varnika Bhargava, Sanj Saini, Katiali Singh and Leisha Chabungbam have teamed up with Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Redmond to create a braille menu for those in the community who are blind and visually impaired.
The six girls — ages ranging from 11-13 — are part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a nonprofit STEM engagement program for kids worldwide. Within FIRST, the girls are part of a program called First Lego League (FLL) and as a team, participated in the City Shaper Challenge.
Taking on the challenge in September, the girls’ team, Jelly Jolts #39887 identified a real problem in their community and developed a solution. The problem they identified in their local community was that there aren’t enough restaurants that provide braille menus for the blind and visually impaired.
“We wanted a project that we could actually get done,” Varnika, 12, said. “We wanted to actually get out there and change things to make a difference.”
In their research, the Jelly Jolts discovered that only five to 10 percent of restaurants in the area provided braille menus. The team reached out to 30 local Eastside and Seattle restaurants about their idea. Molly Moon’s in Redmond showed the greatest interest. The Jelly Jolts chose to team up with the ice cream shop because of its locality.
“We want to inspire more restaurants around that area to have braille menus and we hope they reach out to us,” Sawar, 11, said.
To learn more about blind and the visually impaired people, the Jelly Jolts took a visit to The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. in Seattle. There, the girls learned that people who are blind and visually impaired like to feel secure and confident.
“They can achieve everything that other people can,” Anika, 12, said. “We thought it would really be helpful to have braille menus because then they could place their own order without having to ask for help again and again.”
Creating the braille menu was one challenge the team faced. Initially, they wished to create the menus themselves but realized writing braille was quite difficult.
Using a slate and stylus, Sanj demonstrated how to write in braille. She said it could be confusing, as one must write the cells in reverse order, right to left. When she removed the paper from the slate and flipped it over for reading, the raised dots were in the correct reading order.
Wanting to create the menus in a more timely matter, the team said they decided to print through Braille Works instead of braille writing each menu by hand. The Jelly Jolts said they are looking forward to fundraising in order to print more menus.
In the future, the team hopes to use QR codes to help those who cannot read braille. They also hope other restaurants in the Puget Sound area will team up with them to make an impact.
Sawar said even if restaurants don’t necessarily partner with them to build a braille menu, it is important for restaurants to create a braille menu.
Varnika added that the team wants to inspire restaurants to have braille menus.
“We want to spread awareness that [blind and visually impaired] people are out there and there needs to be more done for them,” she said. “We want to create more accessibility in the state for people who are blind and visually impaired.”
After hearing back from Molly Moon’s, the team said they were excited and proud of their accomplishments. They said they were happy to be making an impact in the ice cream shop and peoples’ lives.
The Jolly Jolts also hope this inspires other kids in their community.
“They can change the community as well,” Varnika said. “It’s not just a little thing, it’s making a big impact.”
The braille menu project also won the team a most innovative award in the City Shaper competition and has qualified for the Western Washington semi finals set for Jan. 18-19.
“You know, they have made us really proud,” Sameepa Saini, Sawar and Sanj’s mother, said. “Every girl has put in incredible effort and time to go from one level to another and to close the loop on the project they were working on. It was their passion project where they felt that this was something they could do. It was in their control and that’s why they did something small with a potentially big impact.”
The Jelly Jolts team and Molly Moon’s in Redmond will reveal the braille menu in early to mid-January.