ATU385 – See3D – 3D Printing for the Blind with Caroline Karbowski


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Caroline Karbowski, Founder of See3D: 3D Printing for the Blind
See3D website:
Websites mentioned in interview:
Caroline’s Ted Talk:
gofundmepage for See3D:– funds donated are mainly used to buy filament

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CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Hi, this is Caroline Karbowski, founder of See3D: 3-D printing for the blind, and this is your assistive technology update.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs.  I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.  Welcome to episode 385 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on October 12, 2018.

On today show, we are very excited to have Caroline Karbowski with us to talk about the See3D program, which is 3-D printing for individuals who are blind.  Remember, if you ever do want to reach out to us, you can always call our listener line at 317-721-7124.  Shoot us an email at  Hit us up on Twitter@INDATA Project.  You can also check out a lot of our other stuff that I website at  Also, don’t forget if you have questions about assistive technology, maybe you’re trying to work on a solution I can’t figure out, maybe you’ve heard about something new and want more information on it, or maybe you want to just try to stump us and give us one we can’t answer — let’s try not to do the last one, please. Just remember you can call that same listener line, send that same email at, or you can also drop us a line on Twitter at hashtag ATFAQ.  You never know.  Your questions might just be read on the air.  If you leave a voicemail, you might get to hear it on the air. Also, if you are and ATFAQ listener, we always want your feedback on that show.  We would like to think we always have the answers, but we don’t always have the best answers.  Sometimes we do get it wrong and get stumped.  If you do have the answer, we always welcome those as well. Remember that our sister show, ATFAQ. Go ahead and check it out wherever you get your other great podcast.

What really does the Mona Lisa look like? What about a water tower? Or even a Golgi apparatus? Just try to picture these things in your mind.  Except for maybe the Golgi apparatus, because even I can’t remember what that thing was.  Now imagine that you are trying to explain these things to someone who is blind, or imagine that you are blind or visually impaired and can see these things for yourself. You would have to rely on others to describe things to you.  And have you ever had more than one person try to describe something to you? They tell you completely different things.  It’s whatever they’ve seen through their eyes, perhaps not really what the item is.

Well our guest today found a way to use 3-D printing to overcome this issue and help individuals who are blind or visually impaired to explore the world through touch. Caroline Karbowski is the brains behind the idea of See3D, 3-D printing for the blind, and is on the show today to tell us about herself and the program.  Caroline, welcome to the show.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Hello.  Thank you for inviting me.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Before we start talking about See3D, please tell our listeners about yourself.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: My name is Caroline, and I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio.  I’m currently a freshman at the Ohio State University.  I started getting involved with 3-D printing for the blind way back in sixth grade.  I decided to teach myself braille in sixth grade so I could read books in the car without getting dizzy.  Because I’m actually not blind, but I wanted to read braille.  So I learn the alphabet, and starting junior year I learned contractions and read articles about 3-D printing for the blind and decided to create a program to distribute pretty printed models and encourage those who like 3-D printing to make objects for people who are blind, because sometimes the even with my friends and I — we wanted to use our 3-D printers, but we didn’t know what to create.  I thought, what if we printed for people who are blind? That would give us a purpose to what we are doing.  So my friends and I can we created a website called, or people who are blind and teachers of the blind can make requests for models.  We take those request and print and mail these object to people who are blind.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Very cool.  Is this just in the Cincinnati area? Or where else is this service available?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: We mail objects internationally. It’s just anyone who goes on our website and makes a request.  Some have been shipped to California, New York — and we didn’t ship the models, but we had a person that visited Kyrgyzstan in central Asia and it took some models.

JOSH ANDERSON: Getting their international on that. How would someone submit a request?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: On our website, See3D — that’s S-E-E- the number “3” – then “d” dot org — there is a link where you can make a request.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  We are going to be changing the format, so if you have any trouble getting to that link, you can also send an email at and include your address and what type of model you would like, and we will see if it exists.  Sometimes we go on website such as My Mini Factory to find these objects, and then if it does is asked, we will print and mail it to you for free. We also mail for schools too, or if you are in college and there is something in your class you are not sure, maybe an image in a textbook, you can see if that object exists.  If it doesn’t exist, we will try to find people who do 3-D design to create that object.  It just might take a lot longer for the object to come to you because someone has to design at first.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Now, if someone were interested in 3-D printing, would they be able to help?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Yes.  We are always looking for people that no 3-D design, that want to help us out with some of the request for things that don’t exist.  Currently, someone has requested fire.  I think that’s even hard to describe with any models. If someone knew how to design a fire model or the Milky Way galaxy, and also there was a request for bagpipes, like the instrument. Those models we could not find, so we are always looking for people that could design some of these out-of-the-box ideas.  And also, people want models of themselves.  This is a cool thing you can do.  You can actually scan people and make an action figure of them.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I know what I’m doing after the show now.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: We need people that would help us scan and edit those images to print them, so that we kids who are blind or anyone can have a model of themselves, and they could get a new scan every year, just like how people who are excited when they go to school and get the school photos done.  You can see how you phased throughout the years.  We could do it with the same thing through a 3-D model.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That’s a great idea.  I never heard of that.  That’s a very good idea, because you never think that you can feel your face every day and that kind of stuff, but you wouldn’t know what you look like five or 10 years ago.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Or even your family.  What do your siblings look like as they change throughout the years? I love to reach out to schools for the blind or just schools that have a lot of students who are blind and scan those students and let them know what they look like.  We always need help to have people to scan them and have people edit those images. We are always looking for help on that. Also maps, we get a lot of requests for, so we need people to help design those.  And there is a cool website called  You can put in any address, and it gives you a file that you can freely print.  You don’t even have to design it.  It does create that using Google maps.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Very nice.  How did you get the word out about this? I know having a website and those kinds of things can get it, but that you actually go out and go to schools and talk to them?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Yes. My mom was friends with some teachers of visually impaired students, so I visited their classrooms in Chicago and took some models.  That was just as a test.  I had a few objects, trying to see what the kids liked.  From there, they had some of their friends.  I also had a girl in Cincinnati named Haley Thurston who is my age.  Her mom was a teacher at my high school.  That’s how I met Haley.  Haley is blind, so I asked her what objects she would like to see.  She had a few friends and we were able to go from there. But the first person I gave a model to was a woman named Cassandra.  She works at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  I actually met her at a college Expo.  I saw that she was blind, and I was thinking about the 3-D printing idea. I asked her what she would like to see. She said she wanted to see a Disney castle, because she had been to Disney World multiple times but wasn’t really sure what a castle looked like.  It was just a word.  I found a model online and printed that and give it to Cassandra, and then Cassandra told me about her friends and told me about the National Federation of the Blind, and I was meeting people, going to schools for the blind, one contact is another. Then I went to the National Federation of the Blind national convention in Orlando this summer and met more people. It’s been a lot of word-of-mouth and talking with other people.  Sometimes you just meet someone, and they say my friend is blind.  She was a model.  We just go from there.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That word-of-mouth really does help.  It sounds like you’ve helped a lot of people already.  What are some of the most common items that you see requested?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI:  I think the most popular is the castle, and the butterflies and insects in general, just because they are so small. You can maybe touch a book or insect in real life, but it’s so tiny or flies away.  My friend Haley, she’s just in general scared of bugs and doesn’t want to touch them.  She’s grossed out by them.  She always likes to have models of dragonflies.  Her favorite was a daddy long legs because she was too scared to interact with it in real life, but she was safely able to interact with it with a model.  I think insects have been really popular.  Also buildings, like the Coliseum, the White House, Statue of Liberty, monuments, things that you might be able to see in real life or touch. Like you could maybe go touch a building, but it is too big to understand.  Things that are big that you could scale down.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I could definitely see.  And probably small things you can scale up, I imagine.  I can see in science class where this could be helpful

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Exactly.  I’m really into science accessibility.  I would like to see more people who are blind working in research labs. I want people who are blind to know that science is an option for them and we could really use all the help in the different perspectives that people who are blind might provide in science. I love printing things like DNA and cell models, just like you said with the Golgi apparatus.  You could print that.  It maybe wouldn’t be the best in detail — but I actually saw a model at the Ohio State school for the blind here in Columbus.  It was a cross-section of a cell, so it was a half sphere.  They had a jelly inside to be the cytoplasm, and all of the organelles were printed.  They were huge, the site of an Apple or vegetables, huge object that would go inside the jelly.  That was three printed by engineers at Ohio State.  That was really cool.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That is really cool.  I could see how — not just for folks who are blind or low vision, but even kids, just having that hands-on.  Not just looking at a picture and having the teacher told about it.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: You can interact with things more when you are not just glancing at it.  Or sometimes if you are hearing something, you might zone out and not pay attention.  But when you have an object, you are forced to interact with it.  Everyone can benefit.  You have that model in a classroom with sighted and kids who are blind. That way everyone can learn from the same object and can all benefit.

JOSH ANDERSON: Definitely.  Is there anything that has been weird or funny that someone has requested?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI:  I would say one was a Chinese Dragon.  That was a really cool model to print out. Also, I did a Tesseract.  A Tesseract is the outline of a cube, like a square, with another cube inside of it.  It has lines to connect it.  It’s kind of confusing.  He wanted it for one of his college classes, so that was pretty cool.  I also got a request for a zebra finch, which is a type of bird, because this man had had this bird as a pet but couldn’t touch it because it flies around all the time.  We were able to print a model he could touch.  The Harry Potter castle, Ron [Weasely] and Harry Potter, snowflakes — which aren’t really that weird, but that was something that I hadn’t thought of. I see snowflakes every day, but if you touch a snowflake, it melts and is too tiny, just like insects. I’ve done a lot of snowflakes too.

JOSH ANDERSON:  This program has helped a lot of people.  Do you have any stories about some of the people it has helped?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI:  I had a friend named Karen that I met at the National Federation of the Blind convention.  She is currently a PhD student in cognitive neuroscience, and she is blind.  I had some models with me convention, and one of them was the DNA model.  She said — she’s in college, but that was the first time, when she touched the model, that she understood what DNA looked like even though she had taken AP biology and college biology.  She might’ve had some tactile graphics to understand it, but it wasn’t until she had a pretty model that she got it and was able to understand, because a lot of times she said, people told her “just visualize a double helix.”

JOSH ANDERSON:  And what exactly is that?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: What is that? Right.  Oh, so this is what a double helix is.  I thought that was really cool because I was able to help her finally understand that.  It only took me 10 seconds to look it up on the Internet and download and print out the model.  Probably three hours and all and I was able to provide that.  That was pretty cool.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That is really cool.  What’s next for See3D? Are you working on anything or do you have any plans for the project?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI:  I would love to see our website become more accessible and have a lot more resources.  [Inaudible] requesting form, working well.  I would love to see more students who aren’t blind, kids at Ohio State, kids at my high school, people to like 3-D printing to be able to go on my website and see what has been requested and then somehow select and say I will print this castle.  And then they could print and mail it to the person.  Currently got right now, all of the request come to the website which go to my friend Emily and I, and then we figure out who’s going to print objects. And then I mail them.  Since I read braille, I can then make the address label on the box and ship it.  But for people who don’t know braille, you can put the braille labels on a box. That’s kind of like everything has to come through someone who knows braille first.  I think the more people that know braille, making more resources available on our website, so that way everyone could learn how to use braille so they could make the address labels on the box.  That would help expand our efforts so it’s not just having to go through me to mail the box.  I would love to have more people who could do that.  And just finding more people that like 3-D design.

I would like to distribute 3-D printers to schools of the blind or schools that have students who are blind, like public, mainstream schools, and then teach the teachers how to use the printers, teach the students how to work the printers, so that way the schools could make their own objects.  I would love to see kids who are excited make objects for their friends were blind.  It would be cool to just connect everyone together.  I see 3-D printing as a way to connect people.  It brings those who may not be involved with careers and blindness – like I didn’t know anyone who was blind.  There is no one in my family who is blind.  I’m not blind.  But I got into this by my interest of braille.  But there are a lot of people out there who are really into 3-D printing, and they could segue into helping people who are blind by using their interest in 3-D printing and learning about how it could help people to just get involved in that.  I think it’s just trying to let people know that 3-D printing has been used to help people who are blind, and anyone can get involved.  You don’t have to know braille to get involved.  You could just get started with printing extra objects that you already traded.  If you made a castle for fun, you could print a second castle.  Someone who is blind could use that.  It’s just raising awareness.

I would love to help fund raise money to give schools who would like these printers, just making sure that models that are available are accurate models.  One thing I found is if you put in “butterfly” in the search engine to find 3-D models, you’ll get real butterflies, butterflies that are artistic representations, things that are not always what you want, because someone is just creating the object for a different purpose.  There would be great if there were a filter on the website, this is all the accurate models, things that are actually real butterflies, not something like an artistic butterfly.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Yeah, if you had the word “real” or something like that just so you could make sure you got the right one.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Right.  Essentially just making that accessible.  I would love to see the websites that have pretty models have descriptions, because sometimes — someone who is blind to go on the Internet and look up butterfly, but it’s not like there is a description of all the different pictures.  Someone has to look and see is this the right model.  It would be cool if there were a description.  Like someone could say, this up butterfly has skills here and it is a monarch butterfly to describe it.  That way anyone could look up and see if the model exists.  You don’t have to see in order to do that.  That’s what I would really love to see, the accessibility part.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That would be really cool.  I like the whole idea of kids learning how to do 3-D printing at the same time helping other folks.  If you still that and people young, it sticks with them throughout life.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Exactly.  I would love to see kids who are blind learn how to make their own 3-D objects too. Also working with pretty printers, because a lot of times there’s a lot of screens of the printers that you have to touch and there is not an audio setting. Once you download a 3-D print file called and STL file, the image comes up on your computer screen and then you can track it around and figure out how large you want.  Do you want it to print on the left side of the bill put or the right side. Do you want it to print on the side or print — what orientation you want it to print so it doesn’t fall apart. That’s highly visual.  I would love to see that be accessible, so that we kids who are blind could be at their house and say, oh, I need a map of the United States.  I’ll just look one up and print it with my homework and I can have it printed in 10 hours. That would be amazing compared to having to wait for a model to come in the mail.  They could do it themselves.  That’s what I would like to see the 3-D printers and the slicing programs and websites that have models to be accessible.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Yes, since everything else seems to be more accessible these days.  If it’s all visual or touchscreen or things like that, if it doesn’t have those audio cues built-in, it’s just not going to be accessible for those folks.  That would be great if you could do it all for yourself.  You have a test coming up on some different objects, you are not sure what they are, just to be able to print those and use those for homework.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Right.  What’s great about 3-D printing is you can make an object in any size you want.  Maybe something like a castle, you can scale it down to be a small model.  You could print a small version of the castle and you could print a larger version to understand the detail.  Because sometimes if I hand the model of the castle to someone, it’s too large that they can put it all together.  When I look at the castle, I can see all the pieces and put it all together.  But if you are just feeling each of the poles on the wall, you are just feeling one piece at a time.  It’s hard to put it together.  You can print a smaller object and get a big idea, and then a larger object to get the detail.  You don’t always have that freedom to print things in different sizes with an object that you might buy.  3-D printing gives you that freedom.  You could have different models for each student to fit their needs.  I would love to let people know that this could be a great tool.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That could definitely be.  A lot of those things would be so reusable.  We have a school for the blind right down the road. While there might be a few things here and there, there is definitely not the skill you’re talking about, of having those.  Some of those can be used in the classroom every year, some of the larger stuff.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Right.  Plus you could make an object for each student to take home with once they graduate.  They still have their objects.  It’s not just one copy at school.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That would be really cool.  Caroline, that’s what’s next, what you would like to see for See3D.  What about for you? What’s in the future?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: I’m currently studying by algae at Ohio State.  I would like to do science accessibility for people who are blind and people who are deaf, because I love signing which.  Also people who are deaf/blind. I’m considering getting my certification or Masters degree in teaching blind students and then perhaps getting braille transcriptions to vacation. I’m pretty open right now just because I want to be able to teach people who are older, high school level, college level, science and make sure it is accessible.  If I know the signs well, then I know what models are accurate and can teach those two kids who are blind.  I would like to encourage and coached kids who are blind and working in science labs on how to go to science fairs and make that accessible, making your science research poster accessible when you are blind.  How do you design that? What could you do?

When I talked with Karen, she said she would type or information, and then someone else would put it together visually so it would look nice.  I would just like to see things like, make it so that kids who are blind could understand themselves, like how to make those posters.  How do you present your work as a scientist who is blind? I would like to see and understand how current scientist who are blind do that and make it more accessible.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I think those are all great goals.  I really hope to see a lot of those come true. We always need more people in this kind of business.  People who want to help and have big ideas on the only ways that anything ever changes. That’s absolutely excellent.  If you want to find out more, I know you’ve already said it before, but can we give them the website and email address?

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI:  The website is, S-E-E the number “3” letter “D” dot org. my email is

JOSH ANDERSON: Perfect.  Caroline, thank you for coming on the show today and talking to us. Like I said, hopefully you will have you on the show in a few years and find out what you’re doing next.

CAROLINE KARBOWSKI: Thank you so much.

BRIAN ANDERSON:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project.  This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi.  For requests and inquiries, contact***

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