UNO Braille and the Importance of Inclusive Play

Two children and one adult woman smile as they play UNO Braille around a table.

UNO Braille and the Importance of Inclusive Play

Over the course of my fifteen years in the classroom, first teaching kindergarten and most recently first grade, I have developed a deep appreciation for how much learning children accomplish through play.

Not just in the structured sense, via games specifically designed for classroom instruction, but also through the hours they spend with their families and friends just having fun. Students develop language skills, literacy skills, and socio-emotional skills every time they play an interactive game.

Every kid deserves the opportunity to interact on an equal footing with their peers when it comes to this most fundamental of childhood activities. However, integrated play can often be roadblocked by the unavailability of inclusive games. For sighted kids, receiving age-appropriate, interactive games for a birthday or holiday present is as simple as a quick trip to the local toy store. The minute they open up that box, they are ready to play. For blind children, acquiring accessible games tends to involve a lot of extra steps. Either the game must be ordered well in advance from a specialty retailer, or someone, a Braille literate parent or teacher, must painstakingly add Braille to an existing game to allow the blind child to have access. Opening up that birthday present is an entirely different experience when the excitement of receiving a new toy is overshadowed by “We’ll find a way to put Braille on it so you can play.” 

Having Braille be an add-on, or a specialty feature, sends the message to blind children and their families that they are somehow different from other kids. In education it has long been established that separate but equal is not an acceptable concept. So why, when it comes to play, the most natural and engaging form of learning, is accessibility still outside the norm?

When I first heard that Mattel was coming out with UNO Braille, I was thrilled. Any child, regardless of their vision level, can now obtain an accessible game right off the shelf of the local toy store. Imagine the thrill of being able to walk into a store and buy a game, on the spot, that is inclusive and ready to play? No more special orders, no more waiting!

Cayte Mendez holds a box of UNO Braille and smiles.As an educator, I consider it one of the privileges of my work to set an example of inclusivity by including Braille, which is my primary form of literacy, into my classroom of thirty sighted first graders. I read books with both print and Braille, take attendance in Braille, and keep my materials organized with Braille labels. Having Braille in my classroom helps me do my job, and I like to think that my kids, going forward through life having had this experience, will consider inclusivity as a matter of course. I am delighted to think that now thousands of sighted kids across the country will get a taste of this experience as well when they open up a pack of UNO Braille cards and encounter something new. Insatiable curiosity being a hallmark of every child, it is exciting to anticipate the conversations that will be sparked by their inevitable questions about why there are dots on their new game!

Play is the cornerstone of learning. I hope that the wide availability of UNO Braille will inspire other game manufacturers to consider how they can make their products accessible as well. The possibilities for literacy, language, and emotional growth are endless when all kids have equal access to interactive play.

—Cayte Mendez