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Experience – nature … culture … science …without obstacles
Astronomy for everybody
Reinhard Pankrath: Astronomy for people with handicaps
„The sky remains fascinating. For everybody. And all the more for all together.“ (R.P.)
As a person affected I really want to encourage everybody with handicaps, not to be scared away by bad experiences or the idea that something is just not possible.
It’s true, there are certain limitations/barriers. But you can experience and enjoy science anyway!
I want to encourage you to try. The Sankt Andreasberg Observatory is in the vanguard. Our efforts and dedication is leading the way for future projects!
Reinhard Pankrath: Astronomy for everybody.
I myself sit in a wheelchair and thus only have a limited capability to move and operate a telescope. I can stem some things with my arms but I tested my limits and reached it with a telescope with a 5” optic lense.
The ETX 125 is the biggest telescope I can handle and mount without risk, regarding weight and size.
The company Bresser kindly provided me with a 6” to test it, but though it’s optically of interest, it proved to be too heavy. There’s a considerable risk that it’ll slip from my grip. Unfortunately it would be reckless to risk that.
So, there’s the ETX for the night and the (in comparison) downright small PST for observing the sun. That’s all that’s possible for me.
Okay, Deep Sky has its limits because of the relatively small opening, but the visual observation and photography offer some possibilities. Then there is the challenge to get the most out of these small devices.
And there’s a lot of fascinating stuff to see for people who like to gaze at the stars while taking a walk.
I can tell you more about that later.
The previous paragraphs referred to the difficulties of handling everything alone, when you have a mobility handicap. How much more can you experience when there is a community of such dedicated and loyal stargazers like in the Sankt Andreasberg Observatory.
It adds a new dimension that cannot be overvalued. To bring the fascination of space closer to people whose bodily functions may be impaired/restricted, who, however, are very well able and willing to marvel at the creation, who want to accept mental challenges, want to push the limits of their mind and can give as much as everybody – that is extraordinary.
Here they open up possibilities for people who usually play second fiddle. Here they give the opportunity to enjoy and to discover a new dimension that enriches the life of everybody involved – the person with handicap and the one who offers the helping hand.
S.A., Oct., 26th 2013
“An observatory for everybody”
It was the goal of this conference to set the course at the right moment, to find ideas and creative solutions.
We’ve just begun with the reconstruction and restructuring on the future observatory building at the IHS.
The big aim of the non-profit association is the realisation of an observatory for everybody, people with and without handicaps – the first observatory in Germany accessible for everybody.
“Accessibility” was a key term in the specialist discussions organised by the SAOA.
In his short welcoming speech for the conference, Mayor Grote from Braunlage emphasized that this project was transregionally unique.
Through to late afternoon the specialists gave lectures on and discussed the different categories of disabilities, and compiled aspects and ideas to ensure accessibility in the observatory.
An important part was a walk through the future observatory.
Creativity was in great demand since – in some aspects – we go where no other observatory in Germany has gone before: trying to realize accessibility and inclusion in an observatory.
Regarding the requirements of people with disabilities, the advisors in honorary capacity of the service office for senior citizens of the administrative district Goslar, Erich Scholz and Günther Lau, offered support and their professional opinion and shared their experiences as residential environments consultants.
Concerning visually impaired and blind people Dr. Jürgen Trinkus and Niels Luithardt from the AnderSicht e.V. Association provided an helpful insight and pointers which will be factored in during further planning and realisation.
Concerning people with learning disability and mental handicaps, the chairman of the SAOA, Utz Schmidtko showed measures and possibilities from his own work environment.
The discussions took place in a relaxed and constructive atmosphere in the conference room of the IHS at exactly the right time. All involved pledged to support the project in the future.
We say thanks to all mentioned participants and helpers who made this conference possible and participated. Special thanks to the event manager from SAOA, Reiner Lehr, the technical advisor, Michael Koch, and Andreas Zieske, manager of the IHS.
Photo: Address of welcome to the blind guests per Braille lettering, written by Reiner Lehr.
press report in the Goslarer Zeitung on Oct. 28th, 2013
“We make the sky accessible for everybody”
Excerpt from an article in the journal of the federal association “Aid for the disabled by the Evangelical Church”.
By Eva Walitzek-Schmidtko, journalist, Burgwedel
We make the sky accessible for everybody – including people with handicaps. The SAO is to be the first observatory in Germany accessible for everybody. The observatory doesn’t just focus on the visual aspects. We enable people to experience and grasp the starlit sky with all senses.
“M31 appears as a longish fleck of light between the Fall/Autumn Quadrilateral and the W of Cassiopeia. The spiral galaxy is better known as Andromeda Galaxy. With a distance of 2,9 million light-years, M31 is the farthest object visible to the naked eye.”
Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Venus, Orion or Saturn: The stars and the universe are often invisible to blind or visually impaired people. However, in the future they also will be capable to take a “look” into space and discover the unknown with the aid of modern technology in the SAO in the Upper Harz.
The members of the non-profit SAOA set themselves an ambitious goal: Their observatory shall become the first in Germany to give people with disabilities the opportunity to experience and grasp the starry night sky – with all their senses.
“We make the sky accessible for everybody” is the motto of the association.
The planned observatory doesn’t just focus on the visual aspects, but addresses all senses and takes into account different disabilities. Blind and visually impaired people will be able to perceive the universe with aid of audio-visual material: acoustic, visual – with or without technology – tactile, by touching a model.
They hear what’s up there in the sky – technology describes the Andromeda Galaxy, the twin stars Castor and Pollux, planets like Saturn, Venus or Uranus, and other celestial phenomena.
Tactual models allow them the “see” or rather feel the size of the solar system and single planets, constellations, galaxies, shapes and the surface structure of different planets.
“We also may show movies with audio-descriptions, descriptions for visually impaired and blind people, or the planetarium show “Eyes in space – venture into the unseeable/invisible universe”, says the chairman of the SAOA, Utz Schmidtko.
The association AnderSicht e.V. has realized an audio-description of the planetarium show, produced by the European Space Agency ESA and a number of planetariums. The audio-description conveys the movies to blind people.
The observatory on the Jordanshöhe in the Harz will also be accessible to people with mobility problems and people in wheelchair: not only wheelchair users will benefit from height-adjustable levels for the telescopes in the observatory, but also very tall and short people, like children.
There aren’t stairs, so they can reach for example the terrace without obstacles: from there, amateur astronomers can observe celestial objects through their own telescopes.
So far, that’s a dream for the future. By now the experienced construction planner and amateur astronomer Peter Hettlich from Leipzig, and the members of the association have begun to alter and renovate the rented building. To ensure that the observatory indeed will be accessible to people with disabilities and to factor in their special needs, experts will be involved at an early stage of the planning.
A specialist discussion took place on Oct. 26, 2013 to contribute their knowledge and ideas. As cooperation partner, the association Andersicht e.V., offers a communication and sensitisation training for gastronomers and tourist guides, for dealing with blind and visually impaired people, as well as a training course for describing the setting and objects.
The project of the Sankt Andreasberg Observatory is singular throughout Germany and regarding tourism, literally reaches for the stars.
Sankt Andreasberg is an ideal location for an observatory. Its position far off any urban centres, 730 m above sea level, guarantees darkness without light pollution, without misting and thus, perfect observing conditions on many days a year.
On maps of light pollution, the observatory, situated at the edge of town, can be found in an area marked dark blue – which means that it certainly meets astronomical criteria. Another advantage is the close proximity to four youth hostels: The SAOA plans presentations, tours, workshops and observation evenings for students of all types of schools and of all ages.
Many children, also kids with disabilities, get excited for the universe and astronomy – that’s something Utz Schmidtko knows from experience. Being a teacher in a special-needs school, he runs a project course at the Pestalozzi school in Großburgwedel for students with handicaps, mentally and educationally handicapped children and youths.
In so called project weeks, they travel through time and space and learn a lot about our universe: “By now, some of the students even own their own telescopes.”
Members of the association enthuse people in Sankt Andreasberg with presentations, lectures, astro-evenings, exhibitions, excursions, and workshops – locals as well as tourists.
A highlight of the year is the STATT (Sankt Andreasberger Teleskoptreffen, SA Star Party): Astronomers from all over Germany come to Sankt Andreasberg for one weekend in summer.
The high-quality programme with lectures of scientists and amateur astronomers and special events for children and youths attracts more stargazers every year.
„Because of the increasing light pollution, we don’t see the stars at all anymore in some places, or only very faintly. Many children and youths but also many adults don’t know the starlit sky or constellations like Cassiopeia anymore.”, Utz Schmidtko regrets.
To ensure that everybody can see the stars over Sankt Andreasberg in the future and that the conditions for stargazing remain as good as they are now, the SAOA commits itself to a second project: SAOA supports the proposition that the region around Sankt Andreasberg and the Harz National Park get officially recognised as Star Park by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA).
A certification as Star Park is considered a honourable distinction in the astronomy scene and ensures the awareness of the honoured region amongst amateur astronomers and potential astro-tourists.
In Europe there are only four recognised Star Parks so far. The SAOA already complies with the most important requirements, the installation of measuring stations to control the quality for observation, events regarding astronomical observation, and lectures. Another step in the right direction is the inclusion of Sankt Andreasberg in the list of Star Parks by the Starlight Initiative, supported by the UNESCO.
The Starlight Initiative does all they can to make known excellent places for astronomical observation.