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For Those Who Can't See, The Eclipse Of The Century Was One For The Senses

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As the eclipse nears its end, David Kingsbury takes in the warmth of the sun while Elizabeth Johnson catches a last glimpse.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

For the first time in nearly 100 years, a total eclipse crossed the sky over the United States, unifying millions of spectators in one of the year’s most anticipated and now photographed events. The iconic images are everywhere -- mirrored eye-glassed faces staring up in unison and with mouths agape, children peering through homemade cereal box “eclipse viewers,” the moon and sun approaching, magically meeting, then parting. 

For those with sight, it was, well, quite the sight. But what about for those who are blind or have low vision? 

Staff members of the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton experienced the eclipse using senses other than sight through a combination of braille, a printing process called thermoform, streaming radio and a new phone app.

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As the eclipse begins to make its way across the United States, staff members David Kingsbury (l) and Brian Charlson (r) sit outside in the warmth of the still beaming sun.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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For the event, they're using a NASA created guide, "Getting a Feel for Eclipses," which allows persons who are blind or have low vision to learn about the eclipse.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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This tactile guide is in braille and printed with a 3D-like process called "thermoform," allowing a person to explore the different stages of the eclipse through touch.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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David Kingsbury explores a tactile diagram depicting the moment the sun and moon align.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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Elizabeth Johnson, who has low vision, explores the guide with the help of fellow staff member Angela Haynes.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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The staff also used a first-of-its-kind app called "Eclipse Soundscapes." Designed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, NASA and WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media, the GPS-driven app allows persons who are blind or have low vision to experience the eclipse through narration and vibration.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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Using his smartphone, David runs his fingers across the middle of the screen and over a diagram of an eclipse. Vocal descriptions, tones and vibrations emanating from the app map out the progression of the eclipse via shifts in darkness and light.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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As the event progresses, Eileen Curran, who is partially sighted, references the guide with other staff.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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In addition to illustrating the different stages of an eclipse, the guide includes a tactile diagram of the path the eclipse will take over the United States. Here Eileen runs her fingers along the path.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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As the staff passed around the guide, Brian Charlson used his phone to share a descriptive narration of the eclipse via a live audio stream on ACB (American Council of the Blind) Radio.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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Throughout the year, ACB Radio provides a wide array of audio programming, available worldwide, for persons who are blind or who have low vision.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

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As the eclipse nears its end, David Kingsbury takes in the warmth of the sun while Elizabeth Johnson catches a last glimpse.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

 

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