Celebrating Astronomy Day in an inclusive way

The activity, for aimed at visually impaired people, was carried out together with the Dedoscopio initiative and focused on telescopes and light pollution.

Astronomy is a fascinating science in many aspects, one of them being its visual appeal. However, what seduces a large part of the population represents a limitation for those who cannot appreciate these impressive images due to low vision or blindness. 

To combat this exclusion, a few years ago initiatives have emerged in Chile that seek to make astronomy an inclusive science. One of them is Dedoscopio, a project integrated by astronomers Carla Fuentes and Pamela Paredes, which began in 2018 with tactile talks in the Biobío region, but soon began with activities in other communes throughout the country. Currently, it is part of the TITANS Millennium Nucleus. This year, to celebrate Astronomy Day, Las Campanas Observatory of the Carnegie Institution for Science began a collaboration with them with the purpose of creating activities to teach astronomy to visually impaired people from the Coquimbo region.

The first activity within this alliance was “Tactile Journey with LCO: telescopes”, a workshop led by Dedoscopio and held on March 20, 2021 with a group of adults belonging to the communes of La Serena, Coquimbo, Ovalle and Vicuña. The workshop focused on the parts, movements and operation of telescopes, through two tactile models, one of them, the Magellan twins of LCO. In addition, light pollution was discussed through the comparison of two tactile images of the sky, with and without light pollution.

Due to sanitary restrictions to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, this activity was carried out via zoom, after sending the necessary materials to each of the participants. This represented a challenge, due to the impossibility of contact between the exhibitors and the participants.

“In the activity we started leaving touch behind and used the sense of hearing, using corporeality to recreate concepts. Something new for us”, says Pamela Paredes. 

Carla Fuentes, who is also a telescope operator at Las Campanas Observatory, emphasizes the importance of the instructions given to the participants, especially in a remote context. “Three tactile materials were used. One of them was a telescope that helped people to clearly understand the path that light follows, which was one of the main objectives of the workshop”, she adds.

For Luis Carmona, President of the ULIVIS Association, the activity was very good. “Sometimes we, blind people, are taught things but in an abstract way. In this work we had tactile material, which we could touch and which allowed us a better understanding. The activity that stood out the most was the telescope. I learned how light reaches the mirrors and how you can finally observe with it”, he says.

“Las Campanas Observatory of the Carnegie Institution for Science is committed to making astronomy a means to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in society. We consider this activity essential for the development of the regions of Coquimbo and Tarapacá,” says Leopoldo Infante, director of the Las Campanas Observatory.

The purpose is to continue with this activity and replicate it with new groups of visually impaired adults and children, also in other regions of the country. The astronomers who make up Dedoscopio consider that the theme chosen for the workshop is essential to continue with more astronomical concepts. In addition, they point out that many of the participants in this type of activities have always wanted to touch a telescope and this activity represents a real approach for them.

Dedoscopio belongs to the Chilean Inclusive Astronomy Network, a group that also includes the Las Campanas Observatory. The joint workshop follows the line of inclusivity that Las Campanas Observatory has promoted in its activities, one of them being the inclusive transmission of the total solar eclipse of 2020.

The workshop “Tactile travel with LCO: telescopes” was made possible thanks to the support of the Chilean Society of Astronomy, SOCHIAS, and its project “Breaking the barriers”.

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