Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy
IDATA is a three year project funded by the National Science Foundation to engage a group of high school age students, their teachers, professional astronomers, software engineers, and design experts in the user-centered design process of data analysis software for astronomy.
From Skynet Junior Scholars to IDATA
IDATA grew out of Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS), one of the many accessibility efforts that Yerkes’ programs were known for. The aim of the SJS project was to build online lessons and hands-on activities that students need to learn about astronomy, request images from one of the Skynet telescopes, and answer their own questions about the universe. Although SJS created many ways for students with blindness and low vision to participate, we wanted to do more.
We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to analyze their data from the stars independent of help from a fully sighted individual.
That means that our online software, Afterglow, needs to be transformed from a tool that works only with images to one that does much more. After all, the pretty pictures we love so much start as numbers on a spreadsheet. That format gives us the power to manipulate and present the information in any way we can imagine.
IDATA participants do the imagining in a software design process that puts the user at the center of the action. Along the way, they learn a lot about astronomy and the computer programming that is vital to astronomy.