‘THE MOST MEANINGFUL THING’
Resources to teach children coding are plentiful in the age of digital natives. But unfortunately, coding apps for the blind and visually impaired – who account for just 3% of people under age 18 – are not.
There are other challenges, too, like needing to pre-teach some concepts – ones considered “incidental” learning for sighted students who grow up using screens, for example – before a visually impaired student can use the tools to learn coding.
It also takes a unique combination of tactile and digital tools to make these forms of computer science education accessible to the blind and visually impaired in the same way they are to their peers who can see.
“A lot of times, it’s just a very small modification for the technology,” says a certified orientation and mobility specialist in Maryland who uses CodeSnaps with a blind fourth grader. “And because childhood visual impairment is low-incidence, I think it gets overlooked pretty often. So [for students] to be included in those things, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I can do this?’ I think that is huge. They realize, ‘Now I can be included.’”
To make that possible, SAS partnered with Sphero – creators of the robots controlled by CodeSnaps’ blocks of code scanned into a tablet – and set out to create a braille version of the blocks to make learning to code collaboratively more inclusive.
Julie Hapeman, a certified orientation and mobility specialist for Milwaukee Public Schools, saw an immediate positive response after introducing a blind high school student she works with to this new version of CodeSnaps.
“He just loves that kind of stuff,” Hapeman says. “And the fact that it’s accessible is the most meaningful thing to him, because in one of his classes they were doing an activity that was not accessible, and it was very frustrating for him and very discouraging. When he can pick up and do what his sighted peers are doing, it’s everything to him.”