Cape Town-160121-Astronomer Dr Wanda Diaz-Mercel (left) accompanies pupils from Athlone School of the Blind on their visit to the Cape Town Science Centre in Observatory. Nikita Jansen (15, left) reads the information about the space capsule, which has been printed in Braille especially for their visit. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams. Reporter Dominic

Dominic Adriaanse

VISUALLY impaired people can now also enjoy exhibitions at the Cape Town Science Centre (CTSC) thanks to the introduction of Braille signage and tactile models to enhance their experience.

The idea is the brainchild of Wanda Diaz-Merced, who has a Phd in computer science and is an astronomer from Puerto Rico.

Diaz-Merced, who is blind, is visiting South Africa as a member of the International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Development (IAU OAD).

She adapted to her disability and excelled in science despite being told she wouldn’t be able to do well in her studies.

Blind or visually impaired people could previously not enjoy the exhibits at CTSC and learn as much as sighted visitors.

“I walked through the centre myself, as a blind person, to evaluate the experience and created tools useful to the impaired to enhance their experience” said Diaz-Merced.

CTSC embraced the idea and under Diaz-Merced’s guidance the centre adapted to cater for visually impaired visitors.

In addition to Braille explanations and tactile models, there was a path with poles so visually impaired people could follow teaching tour leaders.

CTSC chief operations officer Busisiwe Maqubela believes it was an important step forward in making exhibits accessible to people with disabilities.

“We are grateful to Wanda for her passion and expertise and getting us started on this journey,” said Maqubela.

Sixty pupils from Athlone School for the Blind – a school close to Diaz-Merced’s heart – went to experience an exhibition as a trial run to find out how it would work.

Her hope for the programme was to inspire. “Never give up, if it’s not adaptable to you, adapt to it , find a way to explore it and make it possible,” Diaz-Merced said.

IAU OAD director Kevin Govender said they look for and endorse programmes making maths and science accessible and more inclusive for disabled or disadvantaged people.

Athlone School of the Blind pupil Nikita Jansen said she enjoyed the day reading Braille signage, touching exhibits and listening to the tour leader.

Her schoolmate, Mathew Migels, said it was an amazing experience to climb into a replica of a space probe.