Accessibility concerns for computing education

December 17, 2009 at 11:41 am 3 comments

If you haven’t read Susan Gerhart’s challenging comment on my post about Scratch, I encourage you to do so.  Follow her link (there or below) to see her blog with her wonderful, thought-provoking post about the challenges for disabled students to participate in computing education.

When we talk about making computing education more inviting and engaging at younger ages, where we lose students the most, we most often talk about tools like Alice, Scratch, and Microsoft Kodu which are all visual programming languages! Her concerns are well-placed.  What do we offer the visually disabled?

I’ve been learning from people here at Georgia Tech about universal design. Now I’m trying to take those issues into consideration for the new instructional materials we’re designing for high school teachers — but I’m late to the game.  I don’t think I’m alone.  As a computing education community, we’re not doing enough to build tools that help disabled students learn computing, too.  There are some great resources, like Richard Ladner and the AccessComputing BPC Alliance.  I’m just starting to explore what’s out there.  Thanks to Susan for raising the issue here!

Action: On the home front, pedagogical advances claimed for visual programming languages like Alice are not equally available to visually impaired students and teachers. first, is this a true assertion? How does this situation fit the definition of equal or equivalent access to educational opportunities? should the platform and implementation be redone for accessibility? Note: I’ve personally seen a student rapidly learn OO concepts and sat in on Cs1 courses with Alice, but I am totally helpless with only a bright, silent blob on the screen after download. Yes, I’ve spoken to SIGCSE and Alice personnel, suggested accessibility options, but never received a response on what happens to the blind student who signs up for an Alice-based CS course. Please comment if you have relevant experience with accommodations and Alice or other direct manipulation techniques.

via As Your World Changes.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Suzanne Rivoire  |  December 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    It’s great to see this issue highlighted and universal design mentioned. I’m a CS1 instructor at Sonoma State University and part of a Cal State pilot project on universal design for learning ( UDL is nice because it helps identify areas where accessibility can be broadened without negatively affecting the experience of the majority. However, sometimes — like with the visual computing example in this post — there does seem to be a tradeoff, and I struggle with that.

    Because our CS1 doesn’t use a visual programming language, we don’t have this particular problem — my main focus has been making programming projects, and programming in general, less overwhelming for students who have difficulties with executive functioning. To be honest, I’ve had many more CS1 students struggle because of learning disabilities, ADD, Asperger’s, etc. than because of physical limitations.

  • 2. slger  |  January 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    There are good questions on disability and the teaching of writing by author and Iowa prof Stephen K. at

    Each question is both a specific challenge for BPC and an opportunity for computing assisted education. Perhaps somebody in CS education could produce a white paper of convene a workshop to address such questions and opportunities.

  • […] who told me about his SIGCSE 2011 paper on building programming environments for blind students.  Susan Gerhart has challenged our community of computing educators to think about how our pedagogical tools can be used with visually disabled students.  She’s […]


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