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Blind Charleston woman will be able to experience eclipse with NASA, CofC professor's help

Mariah Williams is blind, but the eclipse has been brought to life for her by a NASA-sponsored tactile graphic book co-authored by one of her professors. (WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Unless the weather decides to not cooperate, Aug. 21's total solar eclipse promises to be a celestial delight. It's something millions of people are traveling to see, but for those who can't see at all, there are ways they can still the phenomenon.

“I think they’re really kind of amazing. I guess I never really thought about eclipses [before]," said Mariah Williams, a recent graduate of the College of Charleston.

Williams is blind, but the eclipse has been brought to life for her by a NASA-sponsored tactile graphic book co-authored by one of her professors.

It's a large book with three grooved pages. Each page has imprints of the sun, eclipse phases and the path of totality, among other things that help explain an eclipse to someone like Williams.

"Now suddenly it’s like, 'Wait, this is exactly what happens,'" Williams says. "I understand why it happens and how it happens.”

Professor Cassandra Runyon of the College of Charleston said it was her late father who inspired her to help create something like this.

“There’s over 50 million people in the U.S. who are blind or visually impaired, and many of them live within the path of totality," said Runyon. "We thought, 'Wow, we need to do something for this population,' and thus the three tactile graphics and the book were born about a year-and-a-half ago.”

Thanks to the tactile graphic book, Williams says she now understands eclipses better and hopes to really experience the eclipse using all of her senses.

“The common idea is that if you lose one sense your other senses will pick up and be stronger," Williams said. "Some of that is true, but it’s more you learn to use them in ways that you might not otherwise."

Williams said one of her professors taught her about other things that happen during an eclipse, to help her really enjoy and understand it.

"I’m hoping I’ll be able to feel the temperature difference, and I do have a little bit of light sensitivity, so I should be able to see the darkness," Williams said. "And then I’ve been told that sometimes animals will act a little bit differently, so roosters will crow or crickets will chirp or something like that."

One thing that Williams will be doing - experts say everyone should - is wearing her eclipse glasses when she tilts her head up toward the sun.

"I can still damage my eyes if I try to look at the sun without protection. So, I'll be wearing these the whole time," Williams said, pointing to her eclipse glasses.

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