The stars come out in accessible e-book

A free downloadable e-book turns science and astronomy into interactive fun for every student

Milky Way galaxy in space

The Milky Way galaxy is where we live.

March 25, 2015

How do you teach children about stars if they can’t see the sky? You create an e-book that tells the story in three dimensions.

“Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn” is a free downloadable e-book for iPads that brings astronomy within reach through sound, captioning and tactile overlays. Designed for students in grades 4 to 8, the e-book’s accessibility features allow students who are blind or visually impaired to access the same information as their sighted classmates using the same teaching tool.

Computer scientist Ed Summers is one of the creators of the book. “One of my design principles is to make mainstream resources accessible to everyone, at the same time and for the same cost,” he said. “These resources should be built in.”

Designed to meet curriculum standards, the book covers the latest scientific advances in astronomy and explains the tools astronomers use to explore the universe. Scientists, including a Nobel prize-winner, talk in captioned videos about how the universe began, how stars are born and how stars change over time.

Interactive aspects of the book include printable 3-D models of the Hubble space telescope and the James Webb space telescope, as well as a read-aloud feature that can be accessed by tapping a button on every page. The book also uses sound to demonstrate information, such as how near (low pitch) or far (high pitch) a planet is, or the different heights of bars on a graph.

Additionally, readers with visual impairment can order tactile overlays from National Braille Press (NBP). NBP created exact replicas of the book’s pages on clear sheets of plastic, molded to form the images in the book. Students who are blind can match the overlay to the page they want to read and place it over the iPad screen, for a more interactive experience.

The iPad was a natural fit for such an e-book, with built-in accessibility through its voice-over screen reader and its compatibility with refreshable braille displays. The book can be downloaded though Apple’s iBook app or iTunes to an iPad or Macintosh computer.

This video explains to Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) how to use the interactive features, while the video below gives a brief introduction to the book by Ed Summers, along with co-authors Elena Sabbi, a scientist, and Ada Lopez, a science teacher.

Ed Summers will present a session on “Reach for the Stars” at the Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB) Math/Science Institute, being hosted at Perkins on April 14 and 15, 2015.

For more ideas about making science accessible to students with visual impairments, visit the Perkins eLearning Accessible Science website.