Planetarium Accessibility Tips

Tips on Making Your Planetarium Show Accessible to People with Disabilities

Astronomy is a subject that every person should be able to learn about and enjoy. Don’t assume that people with disabilities can’t enjoy a planetarium show. All that’s needed to make a show accessible to visitors with disabilities is some knowledge and prep work on the presenter’s part.

When giving a planetarium show for audiences with disabilities, there are many easy things you can do to make the show enjoyable and the content accessible to everyone. Please look over the tips and resources below for ideas on how to make your show more accessible. Keep in mind that there are varying degrees of visual and hearing impairment. Coordinate with the leader of your group beforehand to understand your audience’s needs.

Email the Planetarium Coordinator at uwplanetarium@gmail.com if you have other tips or resources to add.

Tips for audiences that are hearing impaired

  • Speak up! There is a wireless microphone under the main control console. To use it, turn the power on at the base, turn on the mic itself, and adjust the volume using the mixing board in the console (turn up MIC and the red master volume control). The mic does use a 9V battery to run so be sure to test it well before your show in case the battery needs replacing.
  • Annunciate your words.
  • If members of your audience are completely deaf, consider the following mock “closed captioning” system – make a powerpoint slide show that has black slides with light grey text that roughly scripts out your whole show. When you project the slides, the words will float over the stars so audience members can read along during your show. Include phrases like “Watch the laser pointer as I outline the constellation Orion” or “now I will show you an animation of the formation of our solar system; during the animation see if you notice…”
  • If there is a sign-language signer available, have them sit in a chair in front of the people with hearing impairments. Position a dimmable lamp on a chair or stand next to them so their hands can be seen in the dark. Ask them to dim the lamp as people become more dark adapted. If the signer has white gloves that will also help their hands to be more visible in the dark.

Tips for audiences that are visually impaired

  • Allow extra time for dark adaption.
  • Speak pictorally. Use descriptive phrases — describe the shape, brightness and color of things you are pointing out. Use a lot of description when playing animations or showing images with the projectors.
  • Whenever possible, use high contrast images.
  • You can create tactile images using push pins and styrofoam. If you are giving a show about constellations, consider creating a few simple tactile images of the ones you will talk about most. Talk to Kristine or Mark about getting supplies for this.
  • Bring other tactile items when possible and appropriate. There are orreries (models of the sun-earth system) available that depict the sun-earth-moon and sun-planet systems, though not to scale. With some advance notice, you may be able to borrow some meteorites and other astronomically interesting rocks to pass around.

Resources
Here are some resources that can give you more ideas and information about how to make your show more accessible.

  • How to Make Planetarium Shows More Accomodating and Accessible to Visitors with Disabilities – TIPS Booklet #10 from the Great Lakes Planetarium Association. This book, which lives in the planetarium on the shelf behind the console, has ~250 pages of information on various disabilities and how to accomodate people with them.
  • You Can Do Astronomy – Noreen Grice’s consulting company for accessibility design of space science exhibits and educational programs. Noreen gave us many of the pointers listed above.
  • NASA CORE – the distribution center for NASA’s educational multimedia materials, including close-captioned movies for the hearing impaired and audio descriptive movies for the visually impaired.