A 3D future

Chris Elsworthy explains how we can create new opportunities for dyslexic pupils through 3D printing

The link between dyslexia and creativity has been known since 1997, when Dr Beverly Steffart published the results of her year-long study into the Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design’s foundation year students. ‘Up to three quarters’ of the students she assessed were found to have some form of dyslexia. Furthermore the NHS estimates that 1 in 10 people in the UK has a certain degree of dyslexia. 

I was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 16, but prior to this many of my teachers wrote me off as simply lazy. This is sadly still the case for millions of other dyslexic students around the world. However, despite struggling with reading and writing, I had always excelled when my particular talents were nurtured. In particular, I felt at home when making and building products of my own design (it has now led me to create the POWER8 workshop and the Robox 3D printer, both of which are created specifically to empower creative makers like me). 

When a person struggles with traditional learning skills like reading and writing, the key to success is often found in alternative methods to help with comprehension and inspire creativity. There is now a wide variety of technology out there to help dyslexic pupils in their studies and to teach them in a way that compliments their particular talents, as teachers have become increasingly good at catering to the specific needs of their dyslexic pupils.

3D printing is just one of a number of new and emerging technologies that can benefit those struggling with dyslexia. It actively engages creative minds through developing their own objects and designs. Moreover, designing 3D printable objects requires an attention to detail to ensure the level of precision is met for each printed item – helping to develop a skill that is often more difficult for those with dyslexia.

Fundamentally, 3D printing plays to the success of more creatively minded dyslexic pupils and allows them to really shine. Dyslexic pupils are too often not given the opportunity to show off their areas of expertise in a curriculum that is increasingly focused on Maths and English results. This problem is only made worse by the high cost of design and technology labs at a time when many schools are trying to find savings.

In the past, encouraging creative kids was particularly expensive. Not only is the equipment for a fully fitted D&T lab costly, it also requires constant supervision. Luckily, 3D printers (such as Robox) have become much more affordable for schools, not least because they provide an all in one package. Importantly, several 3D printers have now become safe enough for even very young children to use. This opens up the possibility of bringing lessons in basic creative design to Key Stage 1 (Robox features a lid that automatically locks to keep younger users safe from its heated print bed and melted plastic, for example). I believe that 3D printers should be usable by kids of all ages so that creative or dyslexic pupils do not have to wait until Key Stage 3 for an opportunity to showcase their superior talents. 

Many teachers already struggle to keep up with modern technology as it is, so 3D printers for schools need to be user friendly and easy to use (this is why Robox is designed so that anyone can start printing with just a few clicks). Moreover, most children are now computer-literate enough to understand the fundamentals of computer aided design (CAD). Teachers can also rely on freely available tools online such as TinkerCAD (which is free for students). Using these tools, any student can create 3D printer-ready objects for themselves, breaking down the barrier between a child’s imagination and a final 3D printable file. Importantly for dyslexic students, 3D printers remove the need to understand complex mathematics which some dyslexics struggle with. Instead, kids can just click and drag to build their designs, and then quickly print their designs to see if they work.

It’s now a very real possibility for students of all ages to design and print their own 3D designs in the classroom, and I’m thrilled at the opportunities it could give dyslexic students to really shine. Thanks to the advent of affordable and user friendly 3D printing, I know that my kids will have the creative opportunities which I would have loved to have had at school.

Chris Elsworthy is CEO of CEL and creator of the Robox 3D printer.


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