Jacob and Beth Lacourse were over the moon when they welcomed their daughter Rebecca in 2016. But the Middleborough, Massachusetts, couple wasn’t prepared for the tragic news to follow.
Rebecca, now 2 years old, was born deaf. The family did their best to learn sign language and adjust their lives to meet their daughter’s needs. But just as the family reached a sense of normalcy, the Lacourses learned that Rebecca has Usher Syndrome, a rare disease that not only affects hearing, but also balance and vision.
“It was devastating. You go through a period of mourning and you feel like a piece of your daughter has died,” Jacob, 38, tells PEOPLE of the moment and his wife got the heartbreaking news. “We both were devastated for a few days, but over time it was like, ‘Hey, this is who she is. We’re gonna make it work.’ I like to adapt the world to her needs.”
And adapt he did.
When the family learned that Rebecca, who is losing her vision, will likely be completely blind by the time she reaches her teen years, Jacob knew he needed to help his daughter in any way that he could.
“There weren’t a lot of toys on the market for children with visual impairments or blind children,” he says. “When a child is born with normal sight, they’re immersed in language and they have little toys with letters and words, so what we decided to do was to make Rebecca her own toy.”
The doting dad, who works as an engineer at a technology company, got to work inventing a toy that would teach his toddler words using braille. It’s called the BecDot, a 3-D printed rectangular box that introduces kids to braille words using small, colorful toys and letters.
“She loves playing with it. She’ll put the toy on it and just light up! She gets really excited because the toy makes noise,” Jacob says of his daughter, who has a cochlear implant that enables her to hear.
“If you put a cow on it, it ‘moos’ and she just loves it. When she puts a toy on it, the little dots pop up and it’s to get her to identify what the toy is.”
The toy works with an app that allows parents to program words to the device. And Jacob says he hopes to make the toy available for visually impaired children everywhere at an affordable price.
“I want to make it as low-cost as possible to make it accessible for children in underserved countries,” he tells PEOPLE. “There are a lot of blind children today … I’m making this for under a hundred dollars so it can get into children’s hands who may not be able to afford it.”
Jacob is still developing the BecDot, as he hopes to have it mass-produced. He recently took the BecDot to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where it won the Not Impossible Limitless Award, according to TODAY.
He says he’s happy the invention he made for his little girl can help other children. And Jacob tells PEOPLE that he and his family will always work on ways to improve Rebecca’s life.
“I wanted to create a toy that was really fun and interactive so that, if a blind child is playing with it, a sighted child might come over and play with it as well. We want to bring that inclusion piece to a blind child.