Making Astronomy Accessible to the Blind

Students Partner with Professionals to Build New Software Tool

Source Newsroom: Associated Universities, Inc.

March 8, 2017

Ken Mayer

If intelligent life without sight exists on some distant planet in our galaxy, these lifeforms would still explore the universe; how? This is a guiding question for Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA), a new research initiative supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation – STEM + Computing Partnerships (STEM+C) Program.

Modern astronomy relies on computers and computational thinking for nearly every aspect of collecting, analyzing, and presenting data. Visual interfaces commonly used for these computational processes present unique challenges for blind and visually impaired (BVI) individuals. While BVI individuals are severely underrepresented across all fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the lack of vision-neutral tools in astronomy further increase the barrier-to-entry for BVI individuals.

IDATA project investigators from Associated Universities Inc., University of Chicago – Yerkes Observatory, TERC – STEM Education Evaluation Center, University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Skynet at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, hypothesize that teaming up BVI and sighted students, teachers, and professionals in the design and development of astronomy software and instructional modules will result in more accessible tools for astronomy investigations, powerful educational experiences, and lower the barrier-to-entry for BVI (and all) individuals interested in astronomy and related careers.

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