Tippecanoe School Corporation
Students see how space images are brought to life for visually impaired
Sue Scott

McCutcheon teacher Alaina Watson and her astronomy class learn how NASA created alternative text to bring James Webb Space Telescope images alive for those who can’t see. These intricate narratives, crafted by a team of professional writers working with NASA, are embedded behind every JWST photo. Those descriptions are only detectable by people using screen readers to voice digital content. SEEDS director Kathy Nimmer, who designed and delivered the lesson, said, “NASA’s splendid alt text has completely rewritten the rules of excellence in the accessibility arena.”

In one activity that had students matching alternative text to the James Webb photos, senior Taylyr Garrison combined prior knowledge about Uranus with precise observation to make a correct pairing, explaining, “I paid close attention to the ring's rotation as it was vertical rather than horizontal, unlike the other descriptions that had horizontal rings.”

The lesson also forced students to consider how these descriptions go beyond facts. One example is this sentence in a photo labeled Miri Image: "Those arms are wispy and highlight filaments of dust around cavernous black bubbles." Junior Ava Robinson loved that poetic line in particular, saying, “It adds an element of enchantment to the description of the image.”

As the lesson wrapped up, senior Cameron Cooley shared one of his biggest takeaways. He said, “This lesson provided an insight to what those who may not have access to certain sensory abilities can use in order to study, see, and observe.” Watson agrees. “I think this was a truly formative experience for a lot of them,” she added.

Kathy Nimmer shares with Astronomy students
Student works on image description
McCutcheon students work on image descriptions