Noreen Grice – Everyone’s Universe

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is called Everyone’s Universe: A Guide to Accessible Astronomy Places (2011). It’s both an education and travel guide. The first part of the book shows educators how to make astronomy and the night sky more accessible to people through mobility access, non-visual access, non-hearing access and non-verbal communication access. The second part of the book is a friendly state-by-state travel guide to already accessible astronomy destinations such as planetariums and observatories. The theme of the book is that even if you have a disability, you can still actively participate in learning about the night sky.

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born and raised in Malden Massachusetts, a suburb just north of Boston, by a single parent and grandmother. I loved watching space-related programs and reading astronomy books as a child.

In 1984, during my senior year as an astronomy major in college, I started working part time in the Boston Museum of Science presenting planetarium shows. About a month later, group of blind students attended one of my planetarium shows. The program was pre-recorded and the manager told me to just help this group to find their seats. At the end of the show, I wondered what these students thought about their planetarium experience so I asked them. Their response changed my life. They told me “the show stunk” and walked away. From that moment, I vowed to find a way to make astronomy accessible to people who are blind. I began investigating ways to make touchable images and how to make the planetarium shows and topics in astronomy more accessible. This work led me to write my first book, Touch the Stars, which has touchable images and text in print and Braille. The Museum of Science published it in 1990 and it is now in its 4th edition and published by National Braille Press. This book led to several books with NASA: Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy (2002), Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book (2005) and Touch the Invisible Sky: A Multi-Wavelength Braille Book Featuring Tactile NASA Images (2007). I have also written a children’s book, The Little Moon Phase Book (2005) and designed tactile graphics for NASA exhibits.

What inspired you to write this new book?

Over the years, people would come up to me at conferences and write to me and say that they needed ideas to make astronomy more accessible to special needs groups. Or a person with a disability would write and ask for ideas on visiting observatories. I decided to combine these two themes into one book and expand beyond visual accessibility to include barriers faced by people who use wheel chairs, people who can’t hear and people who can’t communicate by speech. This book is different from my other five books because it does not have Braille and touchable images. It is available in large print, Kindle, EPub and Accessible PDF.

How did you choose the title?

I chose the title, Everyone’s Universe, because that’s how I feel personally. It really is everyone’s universe and there are strategies to remove barriers from access to telescopes and astronomy enrichment programs. I provide the blueprint and examples of places that have already made their facilities more accessible.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
I had never worked with a book designer before but fortunately met one at my first meeting of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. He guided me step-by-step in details to self-publish my book, such as ISBN numbers and Library of Congress registration.

I also discovered that even if you create an accessible PDF version of your book (for people who read by listening to the computer), current book distribution software does not allow you to upload the book and maintain the accessibility features with security features. This required me to create individual CD copies of Everyone’s Universe to sell.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I worked at the Boston Museum of Science Planetarium for 26 years. My work involved writing a variety of brochures, reports, and scripts. But it was that one experience with the group of blind students that got me really thinking…no one had made astronomy accessible before so I needed to do that!

Do you have any writing rituals?

When I have an idea at night, I write a note and put it in my shoe. Then I’m sure to find it the next morning!

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned that there are a lot of things going on in the background when you have a publisher versus self-publishing. Having to do your own marketing takes a lot of time. I am passionate about making science accessible to people with disabilities and speaking on this topic. If I can help remove perceptual barriers between students by providing materials that can be used by all students (versus colorful slick book for sighted students and dull Braille book for blind students) this helps people see each other as equal peers.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I read a variety of books including topics on business, travel and biographies. I enjoy reading the Little House on the Prairie stories, Anne of Green Gables, and the inspirational writings of’ Helen Keller. I’ve read many of Bill Bryson’s Travel Books – he is so funny!

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Join a writers group where you can learn new skills and pick up writing strategies. Work with an experienced book designer!

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

Everyone’s Universe is an important resource for science educators (teachers, museum/planetarium/observatory staff, and astronomy club members who offer star parties for the public). This book is also a great resource for people with disabilities and/or family members who are interested in natural science. W can make the universe more accessible together!

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

To learn more about Everyone’s Universe and other books written by Noreen Grice, please visit You Can Do Astronomy homepage.

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