In mid-December some 16 ‘AstroAcces’ disability ambassadors took off from Houston, Texas, to test a system that would help to make the physical environment of a space vessel more accessible to people who are blind, deaf or hearing impaired.
The ambassadors flew aboard a specially modified Boeing 727 G-FORCE ONE aircraft to test a system created by SonicCloud which might enable improved speech understanding in space. The personalisation software allows the user to tailor audio, delivered through Sony headphones, to their hearing ability.
This was a first global mission comprising people from different countries and saw the ambassadors taking part in weightlessness testing. Other experiments looked at how the physical environment aboard space vessels might be modified so that all astronauts, regardless of disability on Earth, can live and work in space.
Among the tests, the ambassadors used American Sign Language to see whether it could be understood when one ambassador was upside down. Other experiments included tactile wall comprehension for blind ambassadors as well as trying out specially-designed seats for mobility-impaired ambassadors.
The SonicCloud system proved useful. One of the ambassadors couldn’t understand the instructions when she listened to them with her headset off. With her headset on and using SonicCloud, she could clearly understand the commands, suggesting she was experiencing less of a cognitive load.