Edited by Jane Rosemarin
Participants at a Centro Diffusione Origami convention explored folding blind.

The Taste of a Pineapple

Have you ever tried to describe in words a specific taste?

Here is an exercise: While eating, I have a sense of a sweet flavor, a bit of vanilla, a smooth feeling, yet mushy. The bite gives no resistance, but it’s not a liquid; it’s solid. Can you guess what I am eating?

Whenever you try to verbally describe a sense, you immediately feel lost for words. Taste is a great example of a difficult task, but can you describe origami instructions in words only?

The short answer is YES! Visit this site, administered by Lindy van der Merwe (from South Africa), and explore around 100 models described by text. We call them Verbal Instructions. Lindy is a blind person who runs an origami group for the blind as well as this site, which provides many things to help a visually impaired person fold.

Folding Blind

I was asked by Lindy to help the blind community, and as a creator, I thought the first step would be to translate a model of mine into verbal instructions. I chose the Cube tessellation, as I heard there is no precedent for verbal tessellation directions.

To understand how to write the instructions, I had to experience folding blind. I chose one of the models from Lindy’s site and started to fold it. I did not use a text-to-speech app but read from the screen. No, I did not peek at the paper when I opened my eyes to read the next step.

It is hard to do! Even the simple task of reading and understanding the text is not simple, and I have no idea how it is if you only listen to the words without reading them.

The folding experience is strange. Nothing is simple. You do not know what the model will look like, although there is a description of the model before the instructions. You keep on looking (by touch) for reference points, and trying to imagine what is really happening under your fingers is difficult. Accuracy is an issue, so do not expect nice results on the first try.

Teaching VIPs (Visually Impaired People)

There are many factors to consider when you teach a blind person.

First, the model you choose should be in the simple-to-intermediate range. Blind people enjoy the beauty of models just like sighted people, so any genre is good to teach.

The folding process should change to fit blind people. Every step must include clear reference points. Although some blind folders can fold just like sighted ones, it is better to not ask them to fold a blintz the way a sighted person would — it is harder to locate the center point. Instead instruct them to fold the square edge-to-edge and then bring the corners to meet by folding the left and right edges to the folded edge.

The language must be accurate and clear. Long sentences can be confusing and hard to follow. Terms should be clarified before you start. What do you mean by “Fold the top corner to the center?” Where is the top? If the paper is on the table, you should say the far corner.

CDO Workshop

I decided to challenge myself by teaching a model while all the people were blindfolded.

I talked about that with Maria Sinayskaya, and she immediately gave me a simple modular. Each module has only four folds. This is the description I wrote for it:

This is a star made out of eight units.
The star looks like two squares intersecting (with 45 degrees rotation).
The outline has eight corners of 90 degrees each.
One side is solid in color and your hand can slide clockwise with ease, but counterclockwise forces the flaps to open.
The other side is fluffy, mostly white, but the center shows eight diamonds, one overlapping the next.

Can you imagine what it looks like?

On the table with all the models of the day, I put the model inside an envelope and asked people only to feel it — they didn’t see the model before (or during) the workshop, but only at the end, after taking off their blindfolds.

The workshop was hard to teach, but a lot of fun, and I think people managed to realize how difficult yet interesting the process is.

I gave all the participants Covid masks to cover their eyes.

The first challenge was to fold a blintz, without any explanations. Most did not think to change the process and got bad results. Then I asked them to follow my instructions, and this time most got highly satisfying results. Once you change the process to produce references, the task becomes more doable.

Only then did I ask them to take eight squares and start the model. It was a disaster! Yes, some managed, but most did not. I was speaking English, and then it was translated to Italian. It is almost impossible to translate live with enough precision to convey verbal instructions when there are no visual clues.

The unit was not the real issue. The assembly was. It was too hard to explain … and to understand.

Yet, the workshop was a great success, since all realized in some way how it feels to fold without seeing what you are doing and how great is the excitement when you manage to complete it.

The VIP Project

After this experience, I started the VIP project. The aim is to create the best conditions to allow blind and visually impaired people (VIP) to enjoy paper folding.

The CFC (Community for Creators of Origami) site was modified to allow the hosting of Verbal Diagrams (VD), and they will be part of the Diagram Pool, a resource open to the public, with many diagrams by the CFC creators.

To create more VDs, I approached the origami community and asked for help — either to donate models to be transformed, to write VDs, or to translate them into other languages.

For now, we are two on the managing side, Silvia Franceschini and me. We would love to have more help, so if you wish to give a hand either in managing the project or creating content, just write to garibiilan [at] gmail.com.


April 25, 2024 - 12:46pm Hans Dybkjær

This is a great initiative. If you can see, this is a fun project. If you are a VIP, hopefully it will become really useful.
I have normal sight (well, -2 after my cataract operation), and is an expert in origami. From time to time I teach origami at https://ibos.dk/, the Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and a year ago I created https://origamiforblinde.dk. It is challenging to instruct origami verbally only. As with diagrams, it isn't a good instruction until tested. At the very least, do as Ilan describes and fold following your instructions without looking at the paper.
And great thanks to Ilan and Lindy; I'm in contact with both, and have also taught and learned via Zoom.