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Eclipsing Boundaries: New Technology Transforms April's Solar Eclipse for the Blind

People from the blind and low-vision community listen to a LightSound device during the July 2019 eclipse in La Serena, Chile. (CREDIT: Allyson Bieryla)


As eclipse enthusiasts eagerly await the upcoming celestial spectacle on April 8, individuals who are blind or visually impaired are gearing up to experience the event in a unique way, relying on their senses of hearing and touch.


Yuki Hatch, a senior at a high school in Austin, Texas, who is visually impaired, expresses her excitement for the eclipse. She believes that everyone should have the chance to witness such a phenomenon at least once in their lifetime.


 
 

Hatch, who aspires to work as a computer scientist for NASA, plans to join her classmates from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to observe the eclipse using a device known as a LightSound box.


Minh Ha, assistive technology manager at the Perkins School for the Blind tries a LightSound device for the first time at the school’s library. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Conlon)


The LightSound device, developed through a collaboration between astronomer Wanda Díaz-Merced and Harvard astronomer Allyson Bieryla, translates changes in light into corresponding sounds. Díaz-Merced, who is blind herself, often uses auditory methods to analyze astronomical data for her research.


 
 

This device, which was initially tested during the 2017 total solar eclipse, has since been refined and will be distributed to various locations across North America for this year's eclipse.


Díaz-Merced emphasizes the importance of making astronomical events accessible to everyone, including those with visual impairments. She hopes that by enabling students to hear the eclipse, they can truly appreciate the wonders of the sky.


 

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In addition to auditory experiences, individuals will also have the opportunity to feel the eclipse through touch. The Cadence tablet, developed by Tactile Engineering in Indiana, allows users to experience tactile sensations through rows of dots that rise and fall.


This technology has been integrated into the curriculum at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, allowing students to engage with various forms of content, including tactile representations of astronomical events.


 
 

Jazmine Nelson, a sophomore at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, looks forward to attending NASA's eclipse-watching event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Cadence tablet will be available. Nelson expresses her excitement, highlighting the sense of inclusion and connection that the technology provides.


Workshop participants assemble LightSound devices at the New England Sci-Tech education center in Natick, Mass. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Mary Conlon)


Minerva Pineda-Allen, a junior at the same school, emphasizes the significance of this rare opportunity, recognizing that it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her. The availability of tactile technology allows individuals like Nelson and Pineda-Allen to actively participate in the excitement surrounding the eclipse.


 
 

Erin Fragola, outreach manager at the Perkins Library associated with the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, underscores the importance of accessibility for all individuals, including those with age-related vision loss. The library plans to broadcast the sounds of the eclipse using the LightSound device over Zoom, ensuring that members can participate in the event remotely.



As the anticipation for the upcoming eclipse grows, individuals with visual impairments are preparing to engage with the celestial event in innovative ways, highlighting the importance of accessibility and inclusion in scientific exploration.


 
 

Whether through auditory experiences or tactile sensations, these individuals are poised to share in the wonder of the eclipse alongside their sighted counterparts.






For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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