Total Solar Eclipse accessibility


00:00:00 Speaker 1 

Welcome to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of Western New York Independent Living (WNYIL). Our guest today is Mike Benzin, executive director of Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service (NFRRS), and I'm your host, Ernie Churchwell. Welcome to the program, Mike. 

00:00:15 Speaker 2 

Thank you, Ernie. 

00:00:16 Speaker 1 

And unless somebody has been off in a cave for the last few weeks, chances are they've probably heard that the North American total solar eclipse is coming, and that Niagara Falls will be one of the best places to view it, and it's expected to attract huge numbers of people. So, you might want to get your shopping and whatnot done before the middle of the afternoon on April 8th. We have you on because you're making a special effort to help people with visual impairments appreciate the total solar eclipse. What can you tell us about the efforts that you're involved in? 

00:01:02 Speaker 2 

Well, as you know Ernie, the NFRRS, our bread and butter is reading print publications for people who are blind or have a print disability from the local daily paper to weekly papers, magazines and books. But we're always looking for ways to better serve our audience. We've got a roughly 3,004 thousand people on a monthly basis that tune into our station, either online or on air. 

So, we've been looking into the eclipse and everything that's happening with that and thinking how can we help people who are blind or have a visual impairment experience the eclipse. And many in the same ways as people who have sight, and we found that there's a lot of resources available for folks and folks have smartphones either an Apple iPhone or a Google phone Android phone.  

There's a couple apps that they can download. One of them is called Eclipse soundscapes, and you can find it at And that app is kind of cool. It has a countdown clock; it's got a rumble map. So, it shows you a visual picture of the eclipse as it would happen. But as you trace your finger across your screen. And you're touching where the moon overlaps with the sun. It they call it a rumble. So, your phone will vibrate, and you'll hear an audio noise, so you can kind of feel as the moon crosses the path of the sun, you can kind of feel with your fingers what that's like. They also have some audio and tactile instructions and stuff. 

The other app is called Polar Solar Eclipse. And that's it's going to have a live narration of the event. The caveat to that, it's going to be live from Texas and the eclipse in Texas happens 45 minutes before the eclipse in Western New York. But they're doing something interesting. They're using a computer model with the very fancy algorithm to take the data from the sun and the moon and their interaction and turn it into music, and they're going to have a small orchestra play music during the event. So, when the sun is not being blocked, it's going to be bright and cheery. And as the moon moves across the sun and blocks it, it's going to turn more somber and darker. So, it's kind of an interesting experience, but they also have a number of other functions on their app which are pretty cool. 

We're also looking where we're participating in a National Research thing. People talk about the sounds of an eclipse when the moon is completely blocking the sun, the birds stop chirping and maybe crickets aren't chirping. We're actually going to be recording everything in our neighborhood from two days before the eclipse to during the eclipse and two days after the eclipse and submitting that information to these research folks so they can kind of analyze that and see what an eclipse sounds like across the country, which would be kind of cool. 

We also have available a braille map, a topographical map that's available for people who are blind, and we're going to be providing copies of that to some of the local eclipse viewing parties that are in Western New York. So, people can kind of feel their way through what an eclipse was going to be like. 

00:04:08 Speaker 1 

And to give credit where it's due the braille materials as well as some of the apps we have to thank the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA for providing to us. 

00:04:22 Speaker 2 

NASA has been involved. The Smithsonian has been involved, Harvard University and the University of Arizona have been involved. Some top astronomers and research scientists across the country, all behind this. 

00:04:35 Speaker 1 

That's wonderful. I'm sure people are going to have questions on this. What's a good way to reach you? 

00:04:40 Speaker 2 

They can call me at 716-821-5555 anytime. Leave a message. If I don't pick up and I'll call them back. 

And we can walk them through maybe if they have difficulty accessing the apps or anything like that. 

00:04:54 Speaker 1 

Thanks so much for being with us, Mike. 

00:04:56 Speaker 2 

Thank you, Ernie. 

00:04:56 Speaker 1 

You've been listening to Independent Perspective, a public affairs presentation of WNYIL. Our guest has been Mike Benzin, executive director of NFRRS, and I've been your host, Ernie Churchwell.