A few months ago I heard a fascinating woman interviewed on the radio, Noreen Grice. Ms. Grice is a blind astronomer — something that, while initially surprising to me, actually makes perfect sense when you consider that most of today’s astronomy research is based on radio signals, mathematics, physics, and chemistry — and not at all on optics.
What’s more, she has published a series of books about astronomy specifically targeted at blind and visually-impaired children. When I heard this fact, I knew I had to see that book. Sure enough, Grice’s Touch the Universe is for sale on Amazon. Within days I was holding a copy.
Notice that I said “I had to see that book”. Because ultimately that is how I expected to experience it — with my eyes. Indeed, from the moment I opened the box and laid eyes on it I was drawn to the book’s beauty. But not just because the pictures are visually staggering, which of course almost all astronomic photography is. And not just because the internal design, typography, and layout have a simple grace to them, which they do.
What attracted me the most was the braille. The way the embossed patterns directly translated the images below them, the way there were two languages in play at the same time. This book goes beyond at least my traditional understanding of braille as a language or an alphabet — this is the syntax of touch used for illustration. I closed my eyes and explored the universe.
Here’s a typical spread from the book. Notice how the red spot of Jupiter is expressed as a spiral, and that the spiral is identified in the key below the image area.
Here is a spiral galaxy, NGC-4603, where the density of the raised dots expresses the density of the stars clustered around the galaxy’s core.
The book also features some of the technology used by astronomers, although ironically this is the Hubble Space Telescope, a purely optical instrument.
The funny thing is that this book could in theory have been produced with no ink at all. How unfair it seems that a book for blind people is so pleasant to the sighted, and yet products for the sighted generally proffer so little for the blind.