On day three of our recent National Science Week nine day scienceathon (a phrase coined by Evan) Lynnette, Auke and I had the privilege of presenting a short astronomy program to a group of 43 learners and their four teachers from the Athlone School for the Blind at the Bellville Public Library.
At the heart of the presentation were the fantastic Braille astronomy pictures with their accompanying Braille explanations, courtesy of Kimberly Kowal Arcand. Kimberly is part of the NASA/Chandra X-ray telescope’s educational project to take astronomy to the visually impaired and she is based at Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
The group of learners represented a spectrum of visually impaired, multiply disabled and blind learners. Not all the learners had mastered the Braille system, so we split the group. While the teachers assisted those who could read Braille with the printed material, I gave a short talk to the others on the importance of space research and also talked about the efforts in the United States to give visually impaired people access to astronomy.
The expressions of wonder and amazement on the faces of the learners reading the printed material and experiencing the Braille images and the information they contained for the first was, to say the very least, an exceptionally rewarding experience. Some of these expressions have been captured in the photographs Lynnette took and it is a pity that we have no actual recording of the enthusiastic comments passed by the learners.
Perhaps the most poignant experience was having blind learners request that they be photographed with us and knowing that they would never see the photograph. Many of the others also wanted to be on these photos too, but it was the requests from the blind ones that we found particularly touching.