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Opening Blind Eyes to Science
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The student thinking about El Niño. The scientist studying climate. And the farmer looking at satellite images. All of these people are Earth Explorers. They're all curious about how Earth works. This is a story about a NASA Earth Explorer.

Steven is 14 years old and Amelia is 12 years old. Both of them are blind. Yet they did pretty well at a science camp this past summer. They were able to measure how warm or cool it was with a thermometer. And they measured rainfall with a rain gauge.
A 14-year-old blind boy named Steven is digging in a container of soil at the Maryland Science Center
Image above: Fourteen-year-old Steven digs for dinosaur fossils at the Maryland Science Center. Credit: National Federation of the Blind

Their secret?

Steven and Amelia were using a talking thermometer. And the rain gauge had Braille on it. Braille is a type of raised writing. Blind people read it by touching it with their fingers.

Steven and Amelia weren't the only ones at the science camp. There were 10 other kids too. All of them were blind and between 11 and 14 years old.

The camp lasted for one week. It was run by the National Federation of the Blind. Part of it took place at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The campers went to Goddard's pond and forest area. They observed the soil, plants, weather and birds.

A blind, 12-year-old girl named Amelia (left) and her instructor Robin House kneeling down and touching the soil on the ground
Image above: Twelve-year-old Amelia (left) and instructor Robin House examine the soil at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA
It was the first time many of the kids had used these kinds of tools. Tools made for people who rely on senses other than sight. Like sound or touch.

"I didn't know they existed," Steven said. "It was amazing to see the technology."

There were two kinds of talking thermometers. One was for the air and the other was for soil. The rain gauge was a tube with a plastic ruler inside. The kids figured out how much water was in the tube by touching Braille marks on the ruler. There was also a talking compass.

Elissa Levine is a scientist at NASA. She's the person who's been looking out for these tools for blind people. She's trying to make it easier for the blind to take part in a program called GLOBE. Kids from all over the world take part in GLOBE. They observe the land, air, water and living things. Elissa thought it would be great if blind kids could do GLOBE as well.

A tube-shaped instrument marked in Braille and used to measure rainfall amount
Image above: The campers used this instrument to measure rain. The ruler has Braille marks on it. Credit: Lawrence Hall of Science
The kids at the science camp did other cool stuff besides their trip to NASA. They dissected a shark and dug for dinosaur fossils. They explored seashells with a blind shell expert. And they took a boat ride.

Some kids and adults think that blind people can't do as well in science as people who can see. But Steven and Amelia say that's not true. They say that blind people just learn and do things in a different way. Their way isn't better or worse. It's just different.

"Blind people can pretty much do anything. But they just do it differently," Amelia said.

Steven looks at it this way: "Blindness doesn't have to be a barrier. Being blind doesn't stop you from having a brain and doing science."

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Questions from Kids about Blindness
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies