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How can people who are blind or have other vision impairments experience the eclipse?


Tue, Apr 2nd 2024 07:00 am

By Executive Director Michael Benzin

Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service

A WNY Independent Living Affiliate

How can people who are blind or have another vision impairment experience the eclipse? That was one of the first questions the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service (NFRRS) tried to answer when planning for the April 8 event.

The eclipse is very much a once-in-a-lifetime event. How can we help make that experience accessible and special for everyone?

At its core, NFRRS broadcasts local and national newspapers, magazines, books and other publications that are read and recorded by volunteers for listeners who are blind or have a print disability.

As an organization that understands the value of bringing audio interpretation, translation and transcription of print and visual media across the Western New York-Southern Ontario-Rochester region, we knew we needed to find a way to embrace and share the eclipse from a multisensory perspective.

The station is producing a two-hour special featuring local and national experts that will air before and during the eclipse. The common thread throughout the program is how people who are blind can fully experience the event, but the interviews will be helpful advice to anyone wanting to get the most out of the solar spectacle.

NFRRS wants to make people aware of some accessibility resources and tools tailored to the eclipse:

•The Eclipse Soundscapes app is a free download for iPhone and Android. It includes a countdown clock and rumble map that will allow users to hear and feel the eclipse on their smart device.

•The free Total Solar Eclipse app features a live narration of the event from Texas, interactive audio maps, and a musical composition interpreted from the data collected. (Note: The eclipse will reach Texas 45 minutes before it gets to Buffalo.)

•NFRRS has copies of the “Getting a Feel for Eclipses” oversized braille book, published by NASA, to share with community groups and eclipse viewing parties. It offers tactile representations of the stages of an eclipse, the proportional size differences between the sun, the moon and Earth, and a map of the eclipse path across the U.S.

NFRRS will also be helping scientists study the event.

•NASA’s Eclipse Soundscapes Project – Between April 6-10, the Radio Reading team will deploy an AudioMoth recording device provided by NASA that will capture all the sounds of the neighborhood before, during and after the eclipse. NASA will use that data, along with recordings supplied by thousands of other participants along the eclipse path, to analyze unique behaviors and patterns. For example, anecdotal evidence shows that birds stop singing and crickets start chirping during totality, but few recordings are available.

•LightSound Project – The is a collaboration between Harvard, the University of Arizona and the Smithsonian Institute. During the eclipse, a LightSound device – which uses sonification to convert the light intensity data from the sun to sound – will be deployed. The device emits a tone that will change as the moon covers the sun. It will be connected to a nationwide Zoom session comprised of other sites along the path of totality, allowing researchers and others to follow the eclipse non-stop across the U.S.

Like others, we are also promoting safety. The sun can burn retinas and create other eye damage, even for people who are blind. Play it safe and wear verified eclipse glasses!

The nonprofit Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service reads local and national newspapers, magazines, books and other publications for people who are blind or have a print disability in Buffalo, Rochester and the surrounding regions. The publications are broadcast on-air and online 24/7, year-round.

The NFRRS on-air broadcast is transmitted over a sub frequency of WNED-FM 94.5 that is available to listeners using a special radio receiver in Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties, and parts of Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Cattaraugus counties.

The Rochester and Genesee Valley region is served through a dedicated podcast.

The Buffalo live feed can also be accessed on the NFRRS website at www.nfradioreading.org, and on any internet connected device, such as a smartphone, smart speakers, tablet or computer. Our more popular readings can be found on a variety of podcast services, including Amazon, Google, iHeart, iTunes, Podcast and Spotify.

The Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service is an affiliate of Western New York Independent Living, a family of agencies offering an expanding array of programs and services promoting the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

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