#Eclipse2017 : A Blind Man’s Perspective

People often ask me “do you ever wish you could see?” Mostly my response to that question is “nope, I don’t really care for it.” about the only exception to that is wishing I had some firm way to grasp astronomical phenomena, such as your every day sunrise/sunset, and the rarest of rare, total solar eclipses.

Given that everyone called this thing the “Great American Eclipse,” I wonder if it was only viewable in the US. I guess I’ve heard that people throughout North America could also see it, but I don’t know this for sure.

Technology, or more accurately the people who create this technology, continues to try and make a dent in what we as blind individuals, not to mention other disabilities of course, are able to access. To that end, a group of scientists from the Harvard Smithsonian Museum created Eclipse Soundscapes, an iOS and Android app that would allow us to “feel” and “hear” the eclipse. This is done by moving one’s finger around on the screen in what is called a Rumble Map, and noticing the change in tone and vibration that indicate features viewable in the image. These features are accompanied by text-based and verbal descriptions that help the blind “viewer” conceptualize what he or she is experiencing.

The app aims to make it possible for us to participate in all of the hype that has surrounded this day. To aid in this participation, it notifies us of beginning, peak, and end times of the eclipse in our exact location, as well as percentage. I knew, for example, that in my part of Charlotte it started at 1:12 PM and 20-someodd seconds, peaked at 97% of the total at 2:41, and was completed by 4:04 (not found). Get it? I know, I’m weird.

I decided it would be more fun to partake of this event while surrounded by people. I had heard, for instance, that people might act a little more strangely as the sun disappeared behind? under? (see, I still don’t entirely understand it) the moon. So I ventured to an area Starbucks located at a nice shopping center, and initially went inside for coffee, while attempting to complete some classwork. Only “BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP!, the fire alarm immediately went off! The barista dragged me out of the building, newly purchased coffee still clenched in my hand (because nobody’s taking that away apparently), and I sat at the outdoor table from 1:15 till 1:30. The truck rolled up, and they shut it down in quick order. I doubt anything serious had actually occurred, as I smelled nothing upon re-entering. That annoyance out of the way, I scampered inside and quickly did what I needed to using the WiFi so that I could head back out around 2:30.

And well, I sure hope what I then heard was just people getting “weird”. This woman started cursing someone out, the other voice I was unable to hear, saying “You acting like you wanna fight, like you all bad, then you wanna call the police? Gone head! How big and bad are you. You ain’t *beep* nothin’. Just spittin’ noise.” I subtly seized my backpack and was ready to run, if anything further popped off. I was mostly just wishing they (she) would calm down.

After that fun, Mother Nature finally decided it was time for a little fun of her own. As the event happened, I could indeed feel it cool off so substantially that what had been a sweaty stickiness quickly turned comfortable. I was not in a sunny area, but even if I had been I believe some clouds had passed through at the highest level of impact we experienced.

As far as the Soundscapes app? Well, I found the descriptions to be of help at least. I learned that there are four primary types of events during an eclipse: Baily’s Beads, which are the initial bursts of light as the Moon begins to obscure the sun, Helmet Streamers, or projections of light from the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, or part of the sun viewable during totality, and diamond rings, seen as the sun begins to re-emerge. To me, these felt pretty much the same when attempting to use the Rumble Map, mainly because it was difficult to work out exactly where the variations were. If I were to make a recommendation for future projects, it would be that, rather than having the tonal level simply change, it might point things out more clearly to have different tones that represent different things. Then add some kind of key, so that we would know what these sounds mean. I understand of course that this sort of thing would require more effort, but it is a thought.

In any event, I appreciate the folks who worked hard to bring us that kind of feature, and make it more possible for us to enjoy something that was all over our news, on everyone’s minds, and as someone else said, a positive experience that we could all share in contrast to so much of what happens lately. They state that this project will continue and take on new forms, and I for one am excited to see where it goes. This kind of stuff has always interested me. I guess this is the only total solar eclipse we have had since 1979 (hey that’s the year I was born!) but I seem to remember other partial eclipses when younger. My sisters wishing to get a look, and having to protect their eyes first. And speaking of that, I hope you all were able to successfully protect yours, and that enjoyment does not result in issues later. Till next time, don’t let the sun go down on me.

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