Editor’s note: VisionAware’s Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald dives into the world of 3D ultrasounds for expecting parents who are blind or visually impaired in this two-part blog post. In today’s post, Francesca introduces us to a new company that works to remove barriers for blind mothers- and father-to-be.
Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents-To-Be
We have made unprecedented strides in technology, improving our experience and interaction with the world around us. For individuals who are blind or visually impaired, we are finding ways to adapt iPads, improve refreshable braille mechanics, and broaden the option of VoiceOver technology, so we can all experience the visual world as accurately and interactively as possible. And yet, we have not yet discovered a way to transpose one very common visual experience—watching the ultrasound of an unborn baby for blind parents-to-be. VOTREX, a family-run company in Poland, however, has gotten very close.
Since March 2016, their 3D project, In Utero 3D, has been giving blind expecting mothers and fathers a chance to know what their baby looks like even before he or she is born. Using their company’s unique, crucial software, they are able to take the provided 3D ultrasound scan, digitally design the 3D model, and print the 3D bas-relief model of the baby.
Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald spoke with In Utero 3D founder, Aleksandra Witkowska-Masojc, about their inspiration and process.
Interview with In Utero 3D Founder
Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald: Where did you first get the idea to create your project In Utero 3D?
Aleksandra Witkowska-Masojc: We are a family-run company, so it’s me and my husband. Before In Utero 3D, our backgrounds were in medicine and education, but this project came about from our passion as parents and for 3D technology.
FCF: Do you remember the first time you saw your child on the ultrasound screen?
A: Yes, in fact, I will never forget it. In the 20th week of pregnancy, we went for the ultrasound, and I looked up at the screen and there was the face and nose and hands of my baby. I thought to myself, that is my baby, and it was so clearly ours.
Everything changed from that point on because you’re no longer waiting for a baby to arrive, you’re waiting for your baby that looks and moves like you. We saw a connection between our fascination with the emerging 3D printing technology and our role as parents. It was our dream to make this a reality and to create something as special as this first image of your child to keep and hold on to. My husband and I put our skills together and worked to create our own software to transform the data.
FCF: Did the idea to extend this to blind parents emerged organically?
A: One of our main reasons for starting this company came about because we realized that we are living in a world where technology is constantly advancing, changing, and expanding. 3D ultrasound images were getting clearer, more lifelike. We also knew that still, even with all this technological evolution, we have not found a way to make this technology benefit blind mothers and fathers. They still can’t see their baby’s face.
So, when In Utero 3D launched last year, we knew we’d have an opportunity to create something that would benefit blind mothers and fathers too. We decided that it could be it’s own separate branch of the company, and we named it Waiting Without Barriers. The program’s goal is to give blind mothers and fathers the same experience as sighted parents and bury another barrier between parents-to-be who can see and blind parents-to-be.
FCF: Do you have a lot of interest from parents in countries outside of Poland?
A: Yes, we cooperate with Germany, Denmark, the US, and partners in several countries around the world. We are in cooperation with many clinics in Poland and partnering countries where our pamphlets are on display in their offices, advertising our 3D ultrasound printing service, and the Waiting Without Barriers initiative. Blind parents—expecting mothers and fathers—who are visiting these clinics will see our advertisement or their doctor will let them know about us, and they get in contact. With a certification of blindness, they are enrolled in our program.
FCF: The 3D printing industry has exploded here in the US. Is it booming the same way there in Poland?
A: When we first started to grow as a company, some people were skeptical about the ethics around this idea. They weren’t sure if it was right to see the baby’s face printed in this way; I am not sure why. But, when they found out about our program Waiting Without Barriers, it seemed to make a lot more sense to people. This project opened their eyes and mind to think about the way this service is helping people, and the ways it shows us that with new technology, used in the right way, you give other people sight too.
FCF: How many blind mothers or fathers have been a part of Waiting Without Barriers?
A: Since our company launched in March, we have made 16 3D models for parents who are blind.
FCF: So, the interest among blind mothers- and fathers-to-be is active. Do you remember your first Waiting Without Barriers member?
A: The first person that came to us with a request was a blind father from Poland. So, while Waiting Without Barriers was originally designed for blind mothers, the service is obviously also extended to blind fathers-to-be as well.
FCF: Have you heard from those parents since they received their 3D model of their newborn?
A: Yes, they were incredibly grateful. It was amazing to know that we are opening a secret for someone that couldn’t see their baby and now with a touch they can visualize the baby’s face. Really, we were just giving them something they deserved to see.
FCF: I imagine you receive some very rewarding feedback from the parents involved in Waiting Without Barriers.
A: For us as parents who can see, we believe this technology has made something truly special possible. They will have it for the rest of their lives too. Very often we don’t know the parents that we are creating this model for; we do not hear from them, but I can say that when we are making the bas-relief model for a blind mother and father, we enjoy that work a little more. We know that when they receive this gift, they’ll be able to open their mind and eyes to their baby for the first time, just as we did.
Interested in learning more about the process or how you could get a bas-relief model of your child? Read part two of this interview with the project’s founder.
Blind Parenting Series
Breaking Down Barriers for Blind Parents-To-Be, Part 2
Introduction to Blind Parenting Series
Preparing for Pregnancy: A Blind Mother’s Checklist, Resources and Services
Blindness and Infertility: A Mother’s Story