National Federation of the Blind
Mission Helps Sight-Impaired 'See' The Universe
Reprinted from the Plainville Citizen, March 19, 2010
Author Noreen Grice doesn't
just help sight-impaired children see. She helps them touch the stars.
Known worldwide for her innovations
in making astronomy accessible to the blind, the New Britain resident
makes her way to the Plainville Library once a month to meet with fellow
National Federation of the Blind members. She's also donated five of her
Braille books and two projects to the library in order to continually
serve a population that captured her heart 26 years ago.
When working as a planetarium
presenter at the Boston Museum of Science in 1984, Grice spoke with a
disgruntled group of blind children who couldn't enjoy the show. "They
said 'the show stunk,' because there was no way to see anything,"
Grice said. "It bothered me so much that I decided I just had to
do something about it." And the rest is history.
Grice soon learned that the
pricey cost of Braille books made Braille astronomy books extremely rare.
Still attending Boston University at the time, Grice shocked her professors
by changing her senior project to solve that problem.
She and her professor were
soon experimenting with Play-doh to create tactile images for blind readers
that would become her first published book down the road. But that wasn't
good enough for Grice. She still wanted to improve conditions in museums
for the sight-impaired.
During the next few years,
Grice worked against many challenges to eventually make the Boston Museum
of Science accessible to the blind, handicapped and other disabled populations.
After obtaining a master's
degree in astronomy from San Diego State University, Grice returned to
Boston and asked if she could apply for a grant that would give her a
Braille printer to help create inexpensive tactile pictures. She received
the grant and was soon printing pictures that allowed the blind to see
the wonder of space for the first time.
She has since published four
other Braille books including "Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book,"
which was her first book for NASA, and "Touch the Universe: A NASA
Braille Book of Astronomy."
Grice also started a company
called You Can Do Astronomy in 2004, focused on making astronomy and space
science accessible to people with disabilities.
"Noreen doesn't see blind
people as broken-sighted people, she looks at them as people that have
capability and how do we give them accessibility to information presented
visually, usually out of convenience, not necessity," said NFB Executive
Director Marc Riccobono. "She believes in her work and it's that
real belief that's in her heart and in her mind that makes her so effective."
Although Grice is dedicated
to helping the sight-impaired see the beauty of space that she's adored
since she was a child, Grice's determination doesn't stem from a friend
or loved one being blind. Her motivation comes from also being misunderstood,
She said some institutions
have assumed that visually-challenged people are not interested in visiting
a planetarium, which Grice said is not the case.
And so many already have, Grice
"Kids will come up and
say somebody gave them 'Touch the Stars' and I'm going to be an astronaut
now because I know I can do this," Grice said. "I talked to
a college engineering student determined to be the first blind astronaut
in space, just because he read my book. It's so rewarding to hear that."
Her work at the Charles Hayden
Planetarium at the Museum of Science also included introducing captioning
devices to enable the hearing impaired to follow the show. Working her
way up to operations coordinator of the planetarium, she recently left
her position at the museum. She said she feels her work there came full
circle from having no special aids to help visitors with certain impairments
to learn and enjoy the museum, to opening a new world for many.
Grice said she'll have more
time to hopefully impact more children by trying to incorporate Braille
books into the general school sector. "For some reason I feel this
kindredship with them (the blind), and now I'm working on my own and able
to do so much more," Grice said. "It doesn't matter if its science
or art, it's just important that they can 'see' it too."
To see Grice's work, visit
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