Eclipse Soundscapes helps Tallahassee blind resident to experience solar eclipse

Eclipse Soundscapes helps Tallahassee blind resident to experience solar eclipse

Tallahassee,August22:While swarms of people gathered Monday donning opaque, eclipse-safe glasses that made them blind to everything but the sun — some people who are actually blind tried to experience the astronomical event in a different way.

Despite losing his eyesight at five years old due to glaucoma, Walter Blackmon has always been intrigued by astronomy, reading Braille books on the planets within Earth’s solar system as a kid.

“I was one of those strange kids who, even though I couldn’t see, took astronomy in college,” he said with a laugh.

He couldn’t see the glowing “sun-crescent” formed by Monday’s solar eclipse. But using a smartphone app called Eclipse Soundscapes, Blackmon made up for that by hearing all about it — and feeling the changes the eclipse brought on.

The app walked him through the science of it all, explaining the astronomical event’s progression in real time. Designed for the visually impaired by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, NASA and the National Center for Accessible Media, the interactive app uses vocal descriptions and different tones to translate “images of key eclipse features into a series of unique frequency modulated tones,” mapping out variations in light.

At 1 p.m.  Monday, Blackmon stepped into his backyard, called his friend who is also blind, and together they listened to the app and discussed what they could sense: the cooler breeze juxtaposed with hot sun rays as they tilted their heads toward the sky.

“It felt brighter than usual,” said Blackmon, who is a consultant at Florida Department of Education’s Blind Services division. “It didn’t bother my eyes, but I can tell how bright it is.”

“It was an awesome experience,” said Blackmon’s friend Michael Elliott, a local social worker and IT specialist who is also blind. Moving his fingers across his phone’s touchscreen, he listened to different tones that indicated the levels of light and dark around him.

“You could actually tell how it became a lot darker,” he said.

Elliott felt he didn’t miss out.

“I think, through this app,” he said, “I experienced everything a sighted person could experience, too.”