Accessible Solar Eclipse Experience: Innovations for the Visually Impaired on April 8th

In anticipation of the total solar eclipse on April 8, a concerted effort is being made to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired can experience this astronomical phenomenon in a meaningful way. Innovative technologies, such as touch and sound devices, have been developed to translate the visual aspects of the eclipse into sensory experiences that can be heard and felt. One of those devices, the LightSound Box, converts the different levels of light during the eclipse into a variety of sounds, from high tones representing bright sunlight to low clicks signifying total darkness, allowing the visually impaired to “hear” the development of the eclipse.

Significantly, there is a collaborative push to distribute these devices on a large scale. A notable initiative led by astronomers Wanda Díaz-Merced, who is blind, and Allyson Bieryla of Harvard, aims to distribute at least 750 LightSound boxes to various institutions in Mexico, the United States and Canada. This initiative has mobilized workshops at universities and museums to build these devices, and the organizers have also done DIY instructions available online to expand access. This large-scale distribution effort underscores a strong commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that the awe-inspiring experience of a solar eclipse is accessible to those who might not otherwise experience it visually. Additionally, touch technology is being used to provide a tactile experience of the eclipse. Devices like the Cadence tabletwhich feature dynamic dots that simulate the progression of the eclipse through touch, are being introduced to students at schools for the blind and visually impaired.

Other accessible options

He Eclipse Soundscapes app is part of a broader ecosystem of initiatives designed to make solar eclipses accessible to people with disabilities, including tactile “Rumble Maps” for sensory exploration and descriptive audio for people with vision loss. Although it is not funded for the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, those without access to other options can still download and use it for free. Complementing this, the Eclipse Soundscapes Project also offers citizen science opportunities with access Audiomoth devices. Additionally, institutions like the Exploratorium and the Museum of Discovery are improving accessibility with live musical sonifications and educational resourcesand NASA’s live stream offers a digital viewing option complemented by tactile resources such as “Feel the eclipses”braille book.

These efforts are critical to creating a more inclusive environment, allowing people with visual impairments to participate in and celebrate this rare celestial event alongside their sighted peers. As organizations and communities come together to provide these accommodations, it is crucial for us to raise awareness and ensure that everyone, regardless of physical abilities, has the opportunity to witness and enjoy the splendor of the solar eclipse. This collective effort not only enriches the experience of people with disabilities but also fosters a more inclusive society that values ​​equal access to the wonders of our universe.

Fountain: AP News, Perkins School for the Blind

Additional readingInterview: Allyson Bieryla and Sóley Hyman of the LightSound Project

chatGPT, a potential tool for greater accessibility, was used as a research and writing aid for this blog post. Do you think this is an appropriate use of chatGPT? Why or why not? Let me know!

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