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What does space ‘feel’ like? Blind astronomer takes RNIB Connect Radio’s team on tactile tour of the universe

Blind astronomer Dr Nic Bonne shows radio presenter Hubert Pawelkiewicz, who is severely sight impaired, his 3D tactile models of galaxies.

Hubert Pawelkiewicz (left) and Dr Nic Bonne (right) showing the 3D tactile models of distant galaxies used in his astronomy research.

Wonders of the universe tactile tour at the University of Portsmouth, part of a series of The Blind Leading The Blind challenges to celebrate RNIB Connect Radio’s 20th anniversary.

Blind astronomer Dr Nic Bonne this week (July 8) taught a radio presenter who is severely sight impaired all about the wonders of the universe using his pioneering tactile models.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Connect Radio was established by the sight loss charity 20 years ago to provide news, information, and entertainment to people who are blind and partially sighted across the country. Its presenters, many of whom have sight loss themselves, will be taking lessons from other blind and partially sighted professionals to learn something new while aiming to bust myths around what people think blind and partially sighted people can and can’t do. The Blind Leading The Blind challenges are part of RNIB Connect Radio’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

RNIB Connect Radio’s newest presenter, Hubert Pawelkiewicz, travelled to the University of Portsmouth to meet Dr Bonne who is Public Engagement and Outreach Fellow/Tactile Universe Project Lead at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.

Dr Bonne has developed the Tactile Universe project by building 3D models of different features of distant galaxies to help people with sight loss better understand and learn about the latest astronomy research.

His 3D printable files have been made available to Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils across the UK and Dr Bonne travels widely to help engage people with sight loss in the project. RNIB also makes these resources available to children through its online Bookshare service.

Dr Bonne said: “The Tactile Universe project has always been about inspiring people to think differently about how we access astronomy, to show that blind and partially sighted people can pursue an interest or even a career in the subject if they want to, that we might just have to approach things in a less traditional way.”

Hubert Pawelkiewicz, who has recently joined RNIB Connect Radio as a Content Producer, was born prematurely and diagnosed with the condition Retinopathy of Prematurity. He lost his sight completely in 2014.

Hubert commented: “I’ve always been the type of person that likes to try something new and this was a great chance to raise awareness that engaging with the universe is possible even if you have sight loss... It’s also brilliant to highlight the work and anniversary of RNIB Connect Radio which reaches out to people with sight loss across the UK and provides a vital lifeline and support to many.”

Hubert was joined by Paulina Kuchorew to undertake the challenge. Paulina is the co-host of RNIB Connect Radio’s The Happy Hour programme, with blind content creator Claire Sisk, in which they focus on all things happiness and wellbeing. Paulina has a passion for creating engaging audio including radio drama, podcasting and short features.

Dr Bonne added: “RNIB Connect Radio has supported and helped to promote the tactile project for a long time now, so I was really excited to have the chance to work directly with Hubert and Paulina, get them hands-on with our resources and share my passion for astronomy.”

Notes to editors

All media enquiries to RNIB’s PR team on [email protected] or 020 7391 2223. For urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.

RNIB Connect Radio is Europe’s first radio station for blind and partially-sighted listeners. It serves the UK and broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week on Freeview channel 730, online at RNIB Connect Radio and on 101 FM in the Glasgow area. It is also available via smart devices including apps like Radioplayer or TuneIn or ‘Alexa play RNIB Connect Radio'.

The radio station started as an online service called VIP on Air in November 2003, broadcasting for two hours a day, and later extending this to a four-hour broadcast day. In 2007 the service was completely re-vamped, renamed and re-launched as Insight Radio.

After broadcasting as Insight Radio for a number of years, the station changed its name to RNIB Connect Radio in 2016.

RNIB Connect Radio provides an important service to a community which can be hard to reach, potentially isolated and is traditionally under-serviced with information and opportunities. The radio station also has responsibilities to its secondary audience of family, friends, employers, and professionals who work in the sight loss sector and associated areas. All of the station’s on-air presenters are either blind or visually impaired.

The Tactile Universe is currently based at the University of Portsmouth, with additional support from The Ogden Trust, RNIB Bookshare, the Royal Astronomical Society and the South East Physics Network (SEPnet).

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality, and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

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