Innovators Developing Accessible Tools in Astronomy (IDATA)

If intelligent life without sight were to exist on some distant planet in our galaxy, these lifeforms would still explore the universe; how? This is a guiding question for Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA).

Students at Yerkes Observatory

During a visit to Yerkes Observatory, students from the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired explore 3D printing and how the sense of touch can be used to explore astronomical images. Through the IDATA project these students will expand accessibility beyond touch, collaborating with others in the development of a new software tool making the universe more accessible for all.

IDATA is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and brings together blind and visually impaired (BVI) and sighted high school students and their teachers to create a fully accessible astronomy data request, retrieval and analysis software tool. Students and teachers will collaborate with astronomy and computing science professionals, and educators and education researchers in the design and development of the software as well as learning modules and tutorials that help students explore the role of computation in astronomy. The project team utilizes user-centered design/universal designing (UCD/UD) processes and the iterative method for the development and testing of software and the modules: improving access to our amazing universe for those with BVI related disabilities. Teachers and students who fully participate in IDATA will be considered co-developers in the project, and their contribution will be recognized in the dissemination of IDATA final products.

Education Research: IDATA is a NSF STEM+C project, and will work to advance knowledge and understanding of best practices in teaching and learning related to computation and computational thinking in astronomy and how participation influences students’ attitudes and beliefs about who can engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and computing. The accessible software and instructional modules and tutorials produced by the project may be adopted by a range of BVI and sighted individuals, but may also be transferrable to other similarly visually-intensive domains such as satellite, geophysical, and medical imaging.

Check out IDATA in the news - “Making Astronomy Accessible to the Blind – Students Partner with Professionals to Build New Software Tool

IDATA's Andreas Stefik is featured here in a video about the Quorum programming language.

I’m not a teacher, how can I participate in IDATA? In addition to educators and students there will be other opportunities to participate in the project. The IDATA team, including participating students and teachers, will be hosting Google Hangouts, Reddit sessions, etc. to assess the needs of the user community and to field test pieces of the software as they are developed. We will be reaching out to the broader community throughout this process. If you are interested in participating, or just want to stay up to date with news about the project, please join the IDATA interest group; CLICK HERE: IDATA Interest Form

Let’s make a difference together…Join IDATA TODAY!

For more information or to receive updated news about IDATA, please contact IDATA project PI Tim Spuck at, or IDATA Project Educator Kate Meredith at