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With help of memories, imagination and narration, the visually impaired enjoy the eclipse

With help of memories, imagination and narration, the visually impaired enjoy the eclipse


ST. LOUIS • An hour before totality, Naomi Soule arrived at the eclipse party Monday with the help of her dog, Farbee.

"Who's at this table?" she said, working the community room of the Missouri Council of the Blind in south St. Louis.

Soule, 61, was ready to experience the eclipse, although she would not be able to see it. Instead, she would join about 25 other visually impaired and blind people for a "watch and listen" party.

The majority of those attending wore headsets as Bill Wilcox, a volunteer with MindsEye, shared trivia about the eclipse, then did a play-by-play of the action in the sky. 

"The moon is continuing to slide across the sun," Wilcox said, standing on the council's small asphalt parking lot, his voice streaming through MindsEye's website and live on Facebook. "It's now a fairly small crescent. Still kind of an orange and peachy color, which is kind of cool."

Soule grew up with some sight in her right eye. But in college, the retina detached, leaving her completely blind. So she planned to use recollections, imagination and the descriptions by Wilcox to experience the eclipse.

"I have good visual memory," she said.

About half of those who attended opted to stay inside, where they could listen to Wilcox and enjoy the air conditioning.

Chuck Smith, 53, has limited vision, good enough to see the eclipse through the special glasses passed out to safeguard eyes but not well enough to make out details of a face.

"My brother called to tell me about this event and asked if I wanted to come. I told him: 'I'm not going to go and look directly at the sun or I'll go blind.' I was being a smart ass," said Smith, of Crestwood. He came to the party with his life partner, Janet Shobe, 58, who opted to stay inside during the eclipse. Diabetes took her sight about nine years ago. Still, she said it was worth attending.

"The description was perfect," Shobe said, as she and others ate Ted Drewes custard as an after-eclipse dessert.

"It was amazing," Smith said. "I thought it would be darker. It was more like twilight, which I thought was neat."

Jack Meier, 67, came to St. Louis from Fresno, Calif. to experience the eclipse with his longtime friend, Nancy Lynn, 64. It was well worth the trip, he said.

"It was really something," he said. Meier, who has about 10 percent of his vision, took photos with a small orange camera while wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap.

As the moon covered the sun, the street lights came on. Wilcox had to take a few short breaks in his sports announcer cadence to let an ambulance pass on Chippewa Street and a trash truck rumble by in the alley. His audience in the parking lot didn't seem to mind.

As totality neared, Soule said she could feel the change in the air.

"I could tell the temperature dropped a little bit, the heat of the sun disappeared and I could hear the cicadas getting louder and louder," Soule said. She said she would have liked more descriptions of the colors in the sky. Before she lost her sight, she was an artist. Hues and contrasts are important details, she said.

Soule's husband, Terry Moses, who is sighted, joined her for the event, which included a fried chicken lunch. But he did not look skyward. Although the glasses given out were certified as safe, Moses said he was too scared to partake, worried that even a glance or two at the sun could damage his vision.  But he wanted to be by his wife as she experienced the eclipse.

"I'm glad I did it for her."

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Doug Moore is a former reporter for the P-D. Currently, policy director for St. Louis County Council.

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