Somebody had to do it. So Jamie Principato decided she would take the skills she’d learned and taught herself as a blind Physics student involved with a Colorado Space Grant rocket project and teach them to other blind students. That’s where the idea of BLAST came from – Blind Learning All Skills Too launched on August 10 with the express purpose of teaching other blind people the skill of soldering small electronic devices, the precursors of instruments like those Principato and other students at Arapahoe Community College (ACC) built earlier to send high into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Naturally, we were excited to host the BLAST project’s first-ever soldering and circuitry workshop for blind participants. Principato, after all, had tutored some of our college-bound students in math before she graduated from ACC in 2016 and moved on to CU-Boulder last fall. When she started planning BLAST and needed workshop space and blind participants, we saw an excellent opportunity to rekindle our partnership.
So we collected 11 blind participants, from high school students to a former volunteer fire fighter and blind grandparents. Evenour long-time Tech Instructor Chip Johnson got into the act. Jamie collected volunteers from among her friends and fellow Space Grant participants to teach the concepts in a one-day workshop at CCB.
The morning started with a tactile diagram of an electrical continuity tester developed by blind artist jenny Callahan, proceeded to learning and practicing soldering wires with nonvisual techniques, and finally to a practice assembly of the device using a breadboard and other electronic components. After lunch, the assembly was for keeps and the final soldering completed the continuity tester. Everybody took home a working device.
Jamie doesn’t plan to leave it at that. In fact, she was one of five finalists for this summer’s $25,000 Holman Prize. Now she’s looking for other funding to take BLAST to the next level – a project to build instruments that will be part of a payload that is sent into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The proof of concept is a success though, and it clears the way for participants to further develop their skills like soldering that can lead to following their curiosity in a hobby, in education or employment.
The sky’s the limit … or rather, the sky’s the target. There are no limits!