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local | History | News | OPB's Coverage Of The Oregon Solar Eclipse 2017

For People With Visual Impairments, Eclipse Can Still Be Thrilling Experience


Teresa Christian sits back as she listens to a trained audio describer describe the eclipse as it passes through Nashville, Tennessee.

Teresa Christian sits back as she listens to a trained audio describer describe the eclipse as it passes through Nashville, Tennessee.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

Teresa Christian stood outside her Portland apartment complex just like everyone else in the city at 10 a.m. Monday.

She was just as excited — just as anxious.

Except, unlike everyone else, she didn’t have eclipse glasses. She wasn’t even looking up at the sky. 

Christian is blind.

Many see the eclipse as a completely visual experience. But for people with visual impairments that’s not true.

“There’s a lot more ways of experiencing the world than just your vision,” Christian said. “If you close your eyes and just sit and listen — and have the courage to close your eyes and be out and about — you get a whole lot of information from your ears, your sense of smell, your touch.”

Instead of gazing at the skies, Christian wound up her emergency radio and fiddled with her iPhone.

Teresa Christian uses a phone app designed to help her experience the eclipse on Aug. 21 2017.

Teresa Christian uses a phone app designed to help her experience the eclipse on Aug. 21 2017.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

She opened a phone app called Eclipse Soundscapes. It was developed to allow people with visual impairments to experience the eclipse through sound. The app was designed to narrate the eclipse’s progression in real time.

But then the eclipse came and it went. Christian’s neighbors returned to life as normal. The neighborhood kids went back to running on a nearby playground; others ran inside.

Christian, meanwhile, was still trying to figure out the phone app.

She had missed the eclipse over Portland.

“Being a normal human being, I have had times that are disappointing, upsetting frustrating,” Christian said later, back in her apartment. “And so I choose to do the make lemonade out of lemons thing — as much as I’m able to.” 

Christian, 57, learned to develop that spirit over time. Her visual impairment is four generations old. Her father, daughter and granddaughter are visually impaired by stickler syndrome, which causes connective tissue in the eye to degrade.

Christian’s been totally blind since she was a small child.

Teresa Christian using the Eclipse Soundscapes app.

Teresa Christian using the Eclipse Soundscapes app.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

“I don’t think about how long its been, or how awful it is or what I’m missing,” Christian said. “It’s not a productive way to think. So I just try not to go there.”

Instead of being negative, Christian said she focuses on her abilities.

“I just think about what can I do? What are my skills? And can I develop more skills to experience more fun and interesting things in life,” she said.

Luckily, eclipse day didn’t end for Christian the same way it did for everyone else in Portland. She had one more chance: the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project. 

People with visual impairments were able to turn on the ACB radio as trained audio describers gave a play-by-play of the eclipse. Christian tuned in as the eclipse passed through the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville.

She sat in a chair leaning against a bookcase, hands folded, eyes closed. 

She laughed. Smiled. Wowed.

“It just took me out of my living room into that spot,” she said.

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