Accessible Astronomy - An Introduction to IDATA and GLAS Education

Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM (GLAS) is an organization that is best described as some combination of the Little Engine that Could and Peter Rabbit. We formed in the summer of 2018, soon after the sudden announcement that the University of Chicago would be closing historic Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. We are a determined group in the face of a steep financial climb. Our heart is in the right place and we work like crazy, but we also find ourselves highly motivated by exploring new territory where the payoffs are delicious and risks are high.  

When the University of Chicago made the decision to close Yerkes, they also returned their portion of Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA) mid-way through the grant. IDATA is a three-year National Science Foundation grant to engage a group of BVI and fully sighted students, teachers, astronomers, educators, and software engineers in the user-centered design of accessible image (data) processing software. The collapse of the project was unacceptable, so we chose to chug up the big hill of negotiations that would ultimately turn IDATA over to GLAS.  

Over the past three years, GLAS, along with the rest of the IDATA collaboration, has had the honor and privilege of working with an amazing group of participants. Products, pearls of wisdom, and hard-won understandings are numerous. At this time we want to share what we have learned and issue an invitation to visually impaired students, their parents, and their teachers to join our community so we can grow our capacity to inform the fields of astronomy and computing science about the gifts as well as the needs of BVI individuals.  

Paths to technology has graciously invited IDATA to submit a series of blog posts introducing you to the hands-on resources that have been produced as part of IDATA.  We will begin with a series that focuses on getting oriented to the sky, the motion of the stars and constellations and the information they send us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Our goal is to post one set of instructions and lessons every two weeks, and we look forward with great anticipation to hearing from you.  

Until you hear from us next, do check out our webpage at  and like us on Facebook at This last spring IDATA won the STEM Video Showcase Public  Choice Award. You can find that video below and online at  with complete image descriptions available on the same page.

photo of 2 women, young man and 2 dogs sitting outside outside with the Yerkes Observatory in the background.

Description - Two women and one young man are sitting on a low wall next to a set of steps outside an old building with intricate brickwork.  There is a large observatory dome attached to the far end of the building that is just visible through the branches of a pine tree. This is Yerkes Observatory.  There are two medium-sized dogs sitting in front of the people. Everyone is smiling. These are the employees of GLAS Education. Starting from the left, Kate Meredith, Deb Kaelbli and Adam McCulloch. Ranger and Winter are in front.

More Posts in this Accessible Astronomy Series



Posted by George ThompsonFeb 14, 2020

A shame to hear Yerkes is closed, I visited there in 2018 during the Quorum conference.