National Braille Press honors SAS developers for astronomy iBooks® Textbook for the visually impaired
SAS, Space Telescope Science Institute help visually impaired students visit the stars through touch, sound
The National Braille Press honored two developers from SAS, the analytics software company, for the creation of Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn, a free, multitouch iBooks Textbook for iPad®, which takes students on an interactive journey through space. Ada Lopez, Curriculum Development Specialist, and Ed Summers, Senior Software Development Manager, are recipients of the 2014 Hands On! Award, along with Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Free for download from Apple’s iBookstore, Reach for the Stars is designed to inspire students of all abilities to pursue futures in STEM.
“Reach for the Stars is a great resource for teachers of all students,” said Lopez. “The most rewarding part of this experience was when a visually impaired student expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to learn about stars.”
Traditionally, the abundance of charts, graphs and data visualizations has made it challenging to bring math and science to visually impaired students. And their teachers struggle to transition from printed textbooks to digital instructional materials. With accessibility directly embedded into Reach for the Stars, every student in the classroom can use the same book. Educators don’t have to convert the content to special formats for students with disabilities.
By using accessible technologies, Reach for the Stars enables students with visual impairments to interact with the scientific content in new and exciting ways. These technologies include the VoiceOver screen reader, refreshable Braille display compatibility, sonification of data visualizations, read-aloud functionality, captioning and tactile overlays for interactive images.
Funded by an education and public outreach grant from NASA, Reach for the Stars was developed as a collaboration between SAS and the Space Telescope Science Institute. Summers, Lopez and Sabbi were recognized at the recent Million Laughs for Literacy Gala. Previous Hands On! Award winners include J.K. Rowling, former First Lady Laura Bush and former NBA commissioner David Stern, among others.
National Braille Press created the tactile overlays for the interactive images in the book. The tactile overlays contain raised lines and textures that are perfectly congruent with each interactive image. For example, the tactile overlay for an image of dozens of galaxies lets a blind student feel a shape for each galaxy and simultaneously hear a sound that represents that galaxy.
Prospective users can download the iBook Textbook and order the tactile overlays from the National Braille Press website. A short video and teacher support page will help jumpstart learning. Users can even download a 3-D model of the Hubble Space Telescope and print it on a 3-D printer.