By combining existing resources in new ways, Astronomy for Equity can create new programs that serve additional communities. Resource scarcity is usually less of a problem than poor distribution of existing resources. Resources and expertise often exist but are too narrowly compartmentalized or siloed to reach all who need them. Isolation occurs within academic, geographic, disciplinary, or other narrowly defined boundaries. Local leaders also often lack the expertise or confidence to implement programs using available resources.
Astronomy for Equity creates sustainable and scalable programs that can be implemented broadly without the limitations of these boundaries by forging multidisciplinary teams that cross existing networks, with collaboration between international NGOs and local and regional organizations. A4E also provides online experts who serve as mentors for passionate outreach volunteers. This way, resources can be adapted and distributed, and ongoing support can be provided without the usual restrictions and limitations. At A4E, we believe that there is no need to constantly reinvent the wheel in every locality.
These programs empower activists and provide educational opportunities through local efforts, with support from the global community. Our broad, diverse central organization brings expertise and resources to local community leaders, making use of the greatest resources of all – the passion and drive of activists.
Such collaboration can also create new resources that require research and development or initial investments beyond the means of individuals or local organizations, responding to common needs and developing universally adaptable solutions. This means that more students learn STEM and astronomy, and more communities experience equitable opportunities.
Resources abound for bringing astronomy to persons with blindness and visual impairment (B/VI) but they are not broadly distributed. NASA’s Space Science Telescope Institute (Hubble Space Telescope) and the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory both create tactile materials to help persons with B/VI understand the objects of study and physics involved.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s Inspiring Stars traveling exhibition utilizes tactile and sonification products for persons with B/VI. The IAU Working Group for Equity and Inclusion promotes access to astronomy and its use in addressing issues of equity, including an extensive repository of resources. Academic efforts have also created resources.
Several amateur astronomy clubs have developed their own programs for individuals with B/VI in public outreach, while others have expressed interest in starting their own programs. Homemade resources include tactile planetarium domes to allow persons with B/VI to “see” the sky above them through touch.
Despite this activity, resource creators and potential recipients are separated by both geography and discipline, causing a gap in awareness and poor resource distribution. This small community needs a centralized, multidisciplinary effort composed of diverse networks, using existing materials and expert mentors.
Astronomy for Equity builds on the passion of all sides, creating a larger program that is publicized through media and networks, bringing greater awareness. Our audience, local organizers, individuals with B/VI, and organizations for persons who have blindness, benefit from existing resources and expertise. We maximize the return on all these parties’ investments, eliminating the continuous reinvention of these programs. This provides equitable solutions to members of the community of persons who are blind or visualy-impaired.
Traditional planetariums reach a small fraction of a region’s population, particularly in developing countries where travel to the facilities is difficult or impossible. Commercial mobile planetariums cost $15,000 US and more. By sourcing materials through bulk purchasing, Astronomy for Equity creates low-cost kits for a fraction of the commercial cost. These are distributed worldwide.
The availability of mobile planetariums for education in rural and underserved communities is a watershed for STEM education through astronomy on a global scale. Programs are implemented by local NGOs, governments, and enthusiasts. Astronomy for Equity also supports individual planetariums that benefit from a central organization that raises funds and manages projects, something difficult for smaller, individual efforts.
Astronomy for Equity facilitates “AstroBuses” – mobile laboratories that bring resources to isolated areas and provide STEM education through astronomy. With telescopes, and the sky above, lessons continue after AstroBus visits. Once built, AstroBuses require only a few staff or volunteers, along with vehicle maintenance, to continue for years. Independently founded AstroBuses have operated in Ethiopia, Ghana, and in many countries visited by the IAU’s GalileoMobile since 2009.
Amateur astronomers do public outreach around the world but often lack educational resources. Astronomy for Equity’s in-the-works program of education and certification of amateur astronomers as informal educators helps students in marginalized communities learn astronomy. We are collaborating with existing organizations to create such a program, teaching amateur astronomers worldwide. The result is better informal science education in both developed and developing countries worldwide, benefiting society in general.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead