Exploring the Accessible Universe: Challenges in creating tools that make space exploration accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired

Garden Street: Upstairs
NASA, The National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian are all dedicated to bringing Science Technology Engineering Art & Math (STEAM) to traditionally underrepresented groups. However, bringing the awe and wonder of space exploration to people who are blind and visually impaired (BVI) has proven to be uniquely challenging. While many attempts have been made, few allow BVI individuals to actively and independently engage with the material and many only offer an experience that is far less satisfying than what is available to the sighted. A small group at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory are experimenting with the creation of multi-modal, enriched content that can make NASA images more accessible. The process requires teams of cross-disciplinary experts in design, interpretation, science, and programming. The end result not only produces tools that give the BVI community greater access to discoveries about the universe around them, but also creates immersive experiences that have multiple benefits for everyone.