Technology allows visually impaired, blind to experience solar eclipse

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Four months ago, Henry Winter was asked to describe an eclipse to a colleague who had been blind since birth and was initially stumped because he couldn’t use visual terms.

Winter, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, then remembered a colleague who had recounted the sound of crickets starting and stopping during an eclipse.

After retelling that story, Winter wanted to come up with something that didn’t only focus on how astronomical events looked but also how they sounded and this summer’s total solar eclipse was the perfect opportunity, he said.

“It’s a huge event we wanted people who are visually impaired to participate in that event along with everybody else,” Winter told CBC News.

Winter and a small team have now launched Eclipse Soundscapes, an app (already on iTunes with a Google version expected before Aug. 21) which can provide various ways for visually impaired and blind users to experience the eclipse.

The first experience will be to hear what’s happening; with help from the National Centre for Accessible Media the app will give “illustrative descriptions” of what’s happening during the eclipse.

The descriptions can be read either by the voiceover option on a smartphone or through a recording on the app, Winter said.

“We wanted to give everybody, even those who are sighted but maybe couldn’t make it to the eclipse, a play-by-play of what it would be like if they were in the path of totality,” he said.

A few months after the eclipse, the app will include recordings collected in national parks and by citizen scientists so people can have a sonic experience of the eclipse.

Winter said the app was designed with visually impaired and blind users at the forefront, and although it includes visuals for a sighted user it works with accessibility functions visually impaired users would be accustomed to.

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Technology allows visually impaired, blind to experience solar eclipse

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