Snap Circuits

Electronics Training by Phil 2E0OCD

February 2013

I recently came across something called Snap Circuits. It’s a product made by Elenco intended to be a fun and educational way of teaching children from 8 to 17 years about electronics. Whilst looking at these, it struck me that they could also be an excellent way of introducing blind amateurs to the subject of electronics, and perhaps, even, in enabling them to complete a
qualifying intermediate project with relatively little support.

Snap Circuits are sold in sets. Each set contains everything you need in order to build a number of circuits. Various sets are available which range in complexity from a set enabling you to build 100 fairly simple circuits, up to a set enabling you to build 750 circuits some of which are fairly complex.

One of the mid range sets is called Snap Circuits SC-300. See this link for product info:
(Please note, depending on your browser, you may need to Copy and Paste this link)
http://www.elenco.com/product/productdetails/snap_circuits®=OTQ=/snap_circuits®_300-in-1_with_computer_interface=MzU3
includes all the parts necessary to build 300 projects. Parts include different coloured LEDs, a photo sensitive cell, fixed resistors of different values, variable resisters, capacitors, lamps, switches, a speaker, microphone, antenna coil, a motor and fan blade, transistors, and various integrated circuit components such as RF and audio amplifiers and sound generators, as well as connectors and jump leads, and of course, a battery holder.

Three of the projects which you can build with the SC-300 set are of particular interest: they include a Morse code generator, and a couple of AM radios.

With the SC500 you get further components and you can also build an FM radio.
No tools or soldering are required for any of the projects. All components snap together. Each kit is supplied with a plastic base onto which projects can be built to make it easier.

The manuals are available for download from the manufacturer’s website in pdf format. The manuals provide an introduction to the Snap Circuits concept, a description of every component included with the kit, and a circuit diagram showing how each project should be constructed together with a short narrative for each project which provides some explanation.

The manuals are fairly accessible with a screen reader insofar as the text goes,
but a screen reader will not provide access to the circuit diagrams themselves.

Learning electronics using Snap Circuits is, of course, not the same as doing so whilst getting your hands dirty in a real workshop, but it could be a bit of fun, and it may be the closest some blind folk with no past electronics experience, or who lack the dedicated support of sighted electronics friends, may ever get to messing about with electronics. And I wonder how different this is from buying a simple off-the-shelf AM radio assembly kit and submitting that for your intermediate project – the process, and end result, is similar in either case.

Snap Circuits kits are sold online. Type “Snap Circuits SC-300” into amazon.co.uk and you will be presented with several kits. If you do this, you may also see another, quite similar product, called Hotwires, which is made by John Adams. It works on the same principle as Snap Circuits, and like Snap Circuits, Hotwires has a good rating. Unfortunately, the manual for Hotwires (which I obtained by calling John Adams head office) is completely inaccessible with a screen reader. This makes it significantly less attractive for a blind user.

Has anyone ever used Snap Circuits (or Hotwires), or have any views on how useful they might be for blind people? I quite fancy having a go myself!

I can only envisage two barriers to a blind person using Snap Circuits independently.
First, one would need a verbal description of each of the circuits in the manuals. This would be fairly easy to do because of the way in which all the connection points are numbered and lettered, and each component is likewise separately identifiable. So a simple description might say something like: snap the battery holder with the positive terminal to E2 and the negative terminal to E4. Then snap the Lamp (L1) to C2 and C3. Etc.

The issue would be to find a reader who was willing and able to record the manual, or at least record a description of the circuit diagrams, as it would be time consuming.

Secondly, one might need some initial help in actually identifying some of the individual components in the set. A battery holder will be readily identifiable, but resisters of different values may be harder to distinguish by touch alone. The components are probably fairly chunky so adhesive braille labels produced using a Dymo gun could probably be used.

Alternatively, tactile markings could be applied to the components using TactiMark or Tulip glass / fabric paint. The polarity of certain components will also need to be indicated as well as the identity of the component. This might be something individuals could get help with from local volunteers.
Any thoughts? Is it a good idea, or a total waste of time? Useful, or not?
Phil

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