Rochester eclipse: Blind or visually impaired people can listen to the solar eclipse

Rochester eclipse: Blind or visually impaired people can listen to the solar eclipse

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On Monday, April 8, the skies over Rochester will go dark at 3:20 p.m. as the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. The city will see 3 minutes and 38 seconds of darkness during the total solar eclipse.

But it’s not just about viewing the eclipse. It’s about listening and observing the nature, stillness, and serenity around you. This is especially true for people who are visually impaired or blind.

For Kiki Smith, who is blind, the eclipse used to be a conversation she felt left out of. But not anymore. She took that frustration, turned it into wonder, and got creative.

Kiki, who works as an outreach coordinator for the South East Area Coalition, has been educating herself for the past several months. She’s been using models and tactile maps to learn with her hands. But come April 8, she’ll be listening.

Kiki, lost her eyesight over time, stemming from a diagnosis in second grade. Her condition, Uveitis, had been tearing down the tissue in her eye wall over the course of her lifetime.

“So it’s been progressive, or degenerative, I prefer to explain,” she said.

While it may not be a death sentence, as she says, it certainly put a damper on her childhood dream of becoming an astronomer. But those dreams look different as an adult.

That’s where sonar technology comes into play. Kiki plans on using it to hear the eclipse in real time, all while sharing it with others who are visually impaired, as part of an accessibility event at Genesee Valley Park for the eclipse.

It’s a party she’s helping to host, along with other community organizers. So, what technology with the group use?

“As it gets darker, incrementally by the minute, those tones will decrease,” Kiki said.

Lower tones represent darkness. High frequencies represent light. The brief moment of darkness is something Kiki has been preparing for all year. She recalls feeling left out during the partial eclipse in 2017.

“Everyone else was talking about what they were seeing and all the places they were going with friends to watch this eclipse,” she said.

But now, she’s sharing the expirience with others who may have felt left out too. She’s living her dream of bringing inclusivity and empowerment to the neighborhood.

“We can really step back and realize how little we are in the grand scheme of things,” Kiki said. “And how each of the folks we bring into our days matter just as much.”

Kiki has been getting help from local organizers like Rochester Museum and Science Center, Deb Ross, Rochester Accessible Adventures, and the South East Area Coalition.

RSVP is encouraged, but not required. The event is free at Genesee Valley Park Field House Lodge from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and will feature a DJ, face-painting and visitors from Wilson Magnet High School.

News10NBC is Rochester’s Headquarters for the total solar eclipse. You can see our complete coverage here.