About "A Touch of the Universe"

In developing countries there are very few and sparse astronomical resources for people with visual problems. Often the teachers with special-need-students lack teaching materials specially adapted to their needs. With this kit we wanted to put together a few resources to make it easier for educators and teachers to be able to introduce basic astronomical concepts to their blind students.

The project has reached 30 educators in developing countries around the world. The kit is mainly addressed to young kids, but it can also be used with teenagers and even adults (the planetarium show, for example). The resources included in the kit are about basic astronomy which can be used as teaching material in primary and secondary school.

The planetarium show "The Sky in Your Hands" is the first show for the blind to be freely available to educators all around the world. The soundtrack is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese both in stereo, and in 7 separated channels. It is a very versatile show, as it can be shown in planetariums as well as in a normal classroom. It consists of a soundtrack with a script narrated by two speakers. One talks about astronomical facts, the other helps the public to follow their way on the tactile half-sphere where the constellations are engraved. In this way, the user can feel the shape of the constellation while listening to the story.

The soundtrack is divided in seven channels, two for the speakers and five for the special sound effects and music. In a planetarium dome with several sound systems, one can make the sound come from the loudspeaker nearest to the constellation as projected on the dome. In a regular classroom this effect is missed, but still the sound effects and the half-sphere complement the script in a way that makes it very easy for the public to follow the show. We also provide a manual to build the half-spheres with everyday materials.

The tactile 3D moon is the first 3D spherical representation of the Moon in the world for the visually impaired, as far as we know. It conveys in a tactile way the visual perception that we have when looking at the Moon. In the frame of this project we have developed some activities centered on this tactile Moon.

The From Earth To The Universe (FETTU) project kindly contributes 30 sets of their Braille sheets along with an activity guide. The kit also includes a book on astronomy for the blind by renowned author Noreen Grice.

Finally, we include three constellation models in 3D, that can not only be touched and manipulated but also illustrate the fact that the stars that make out a constellation are not necessarily close in the physical space, but often the distances between them are huge.

Although the kit has been specially developed for children with visual difficulties, children with regular vision can also benefit from it, as they can add the sense of touch to the sense of vision. It has been demonstrated that the more senses involved in the learning process the better results are achieved.

In fact, “The Sky in Your Hands" was presented to a blindfold public with normal vision abilities, and they were able to follow the program with some difficulties, realising how able their blind peers are when it comes to touching and hearing.