Posts tagged ‘accessibility’

Programming and learning CS when legally blind

Since I’ve been using blocks-based languages lately (see my posts on GP and MOHQ), I’ve been thinking more about the challenges of using blocks-based languages, and programming and learning CS more generally, when legally blind.  One of our PhD students in the Human-Centered Computing PhD program is legally blind, and he generously came to visit me and brought with him one of his students who is legally blind and learning programming.

The first and biggest surprise for me was that most (about 85%) legally blind people can actually see. One of the people I worked with can see light/dark (which doesn’t help with programming, but does help him with way-finding and spatial navigation). The other one loves to program in App Inventor using high magnification on her Mac. She’s low-vision and finds the large splotches of color useful in figuring out her code.

The implication, they explained to me, is that some tactile-based affordances for blind people don’t work because low-vision blind people would prefer to use audio and what sight they have, rather than learn a touch-based encoding. I was surprised to learn that most blind people don’t learn Braille because it’s a complicated code, and low vision people would rather magnify the screen than learn the encoding.

Blind programmers who know Braille will often use an audio screen reader along with a Braille reader for a single line of text. It’s easier to scan a line (especially for syntax errors) with Braille than with a screen reader.

The second surprise was about their tools. They showed me Visual Studio and EdSharp, a plain text editor developed by a blind programmer for blind programmers. I asked what features made an editor good for blind programmers. They said, “It works with screen readers.” And really, that’s it. They don’t want specialized tools with non-standard interfaces because of the cognitive load of switching between the standard screen reader interfaces and a novel interface.

I didn’t realize how few tools go to the trouble of accessing the screen reader API’s and providing good mappings from the interface to text. Processing (all platforms) and NetBeans (on Windows) are completely unusable for blind people because they are inaccessible by screen readers. Visual Studio has become a new favorite IDE, not because of any special features, but because it does “it doesn’t crash and I can access it with a screen reader.”

I was particularly interested in the low-vision programmer’s use of App Inventor. We talked about what didn’t work for her and brainstormed what would make it better. One of the tougher parts of block-based languages is that scripts could be anywhere in a 2-D space. It’s hard to scan a 2-D space with a zoomed interface, and there’s no obvious interface for screen-readers. Having blocks snap to a grid would help a lot to make it easier to find scripts for both types of blind programmers.

We talked about how CS classes might be better designed for legally blind students. I was surprised to learn how much they dislike active learning activities in classrooms.  They said that when the whole class breaks into small group discussions, they can’t hear their group.  The definition of the group is by physical proximity, but they discern “close” by “loud.”  They end up listening in to whichever group is loudest around them.  They need a different kind of active learning activity.

August 8, 2016 at 7:55 am 1 comment

How Can We Include Students with Disabilities in Computing Courses?: DO-IT Video

AccessComputing and DO-IT does terrific work.  I get the question in the title a lot with MediaComp, since it’s a curriculum that lends itself towards producing just visual or just audio products, while exploring the same computing concepts.

With the increasing demand for computing professionals, it’s important that students with disabilities are included in computing courses. This video includes profiles of successful computing students and professionals who happen to have disabilities. Learn how accommodations, assistive technology, and universal design strategies can make computing courses accessible to students with disabilities.

Year: 2015

Runtime: 10:24 minutes

via How Can We Include Students with Disabilities in Computing Courses?: DO-IT Video.

September 4, 2015 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

ACM tops list of “meanies” for lack of accessibility

Accessible Computing Mockery (ACM) happily behind the times

via Reading, Ranting, and Computing: 2009 Heroes and Meanies « As Your World Changes.

I linked to the As Your World Changes blog previously, for the eye-opening post on accessibility concerns in CS education.  I found that post particularly useful recently when I was asked to comment on a project that aimed to teach video game design to blind students (among others), using tools like Alice, Scratch, and Kodu.  I knew to ask, “How are blind students going to use a visual programming language?”  It’s an obvious question in hindsight, but I hadn’t made the connection before that post.

Susan Gerhart’s blog ends 2009 with a list of “Heroes and Meanies” in accessibility.  I was surprised to see the ACM heading the list of meanies.  While the ACM’s role in CS education is mentioned, the main complaint is about the inaccessibility of the ACM’s digital library (certainly one of the most valuable benefits of society membership).  That’s a sad commentary, that the most advanced computing professional organization isn’t making their web sites accessible.

The list of meanies goes on with several others that I hadn’t thought about previously. CAPTCHA is philosophically problematic.  The point of CAPTCHA is to prove ‘humanness,’ which it implicitly defines as accurate vision or hearing.  That’s quite an insult to disabled users.

I don’t have any great insights into solving accessibility problems.  I’m still learning about the issues from places like Susan’s blog.  I do think that significant thought-leading organizations like ACM ought to be leading the way by, at least, implementing the existing technologies for improving accessibility.

January 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm 1 comment


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