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I am teaching a blind high school student in my APCSA class. All students are using a combination of CodeHS and Project Lead the Way curriculum. Neither of these are very friendly to my blind student because there are so many visual that his screen reader can't interpret.

Does anyone have experience in this?
I'm looking for something that can be done pretty independently as he will be in the class with others working on a different curriculum. I want to support him in his endeavors to become a computer scientist but I don't know where to start as an inexperienced CS teacher myself!

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you give us more details on what is the curriculum for the class is like? $\endgroup$ – Safirah Aug 31 '17 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ I think you should ask for help on the APCS mailing list. You may find others with more experience at this. You would reach a larger audience on the ACM SIGCSE list. Your issue isn't really limited to high-school, of course. It can arise in any course at any level. With appropriate changes of language (emphasizing the CS less and the visual elements of the curriculum more) you might also ask it on other forums here at StackExchange. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Aug 31 '17 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Shouldn't this question be migrated to Academia SE? $\endgroup$ – Failed Scientist Aug 31 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ @TalhaIrfan no, it's about high school, not academia. $\endgroup$ – Keelan Sep 1 '17 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think the number one point is to ditch the GUI and go with full CLI access. For additional resources, try contacting Kentucky School for the Blind, a K-12 school which has probably encountered, and overcome, any issue you might have. $\endgroup$ – Gypsy Spellweaver Sep 4 '17 at 4:56
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A quick online search led me to this.

A Beginner's Guide to Access Technology for Blind Students

It covers all the essentials

  1. Screen Access Software
  2. Braille Embosser
  3. Notetaker
  4. Scanner and Optical Character Recognition

I am essentially listing things from that article It seems like something that was written years ago, but I assume, it should be a good starting point for you.

Further, the city I live in does have a national institute on speech and hearing, which includes folks who are sight challenged. If this is something serious, I can drive up there and talk to someone and hook you up with a professor or something.

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I think it is bad practice to have the computer draw pictures, and then try to describe them, when in would be much easier (and better for the blind person) to interpret a text interface (command line).

Having a blind person try to use a system that is optimised to sight, is wrong. Wasting power on a screen, that you can not see is wrong (though having something the teacher can see is useful).

Therefore use a system that is optimised for a blind person, or at least one that is very similar. This leaves tactile, audio, or linier speech (that can be converted to audio).

Here I will only discuss the speech part.

I would recommend Gnu/Linux, it is a Unix system. Unix was designed from the beginning to be text based. The GUI saw added latter. This has made it a very strong operating system, that a variety of interfaces can be added to.

Most of the programming languages that we teach were first written for Unix: Java, python, C. The only exception that I can think of would be C#, however that now runs on Unix. I have run it on a raspberry pi model 1b.


UNIX( a type of Unix ) is the system that we could not afford in the 1980s, so instead we bought Microsoft Dos, and then Microsoft Windows. Gnu/Linux is a newer Unix, as well as being Free Software is also very cheap.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. As Piaget said, "Nothing Gnu is learned until existing systems have failed to maintain equilibrium." (well, almost) $\endgroup$ – user737 Sep 1 '17 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende Can you enlighten be in that quote. It reminds we of something. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Sep 1 '17 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ It should be 'new' instead of 'Gnu', of course. The idea is that we only learn when we must, and it means that we are always off-balance or struggling while learning. If our existing knowledge suffices, why would we bother to change it? A friend of mine used to quote this a lot. So, the basis for all learning is discomfort. Like the basis for all of Buddhism is the Truth of Suffering. Hmm... $\endgroup$ – user737 Sep 1 '17 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @user737 Oh very punny. (and sorry I seemed to have miked you up with someone else, in that last comment. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Sep 2 '17 at 9:35
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I have never had this situation, but can offer some general advice that is also applicable to other students whose needs require specialized techniques.

As suggested in other answers here, talk to the student, of course. But ask the student for permission to do at least some of the following.

You probably have a school counselor who can offer some general advice. You can talk to the parents about what they suggest and what has been useful to the student in the past. You can have a meeting with other teachers who have, or had, this student in class to see what they suggest. You may be able, with permission, to talk to the student's former teachers, even in grammar school, to see what might work.

You can also seek, perhaps online, advice from specialists in the student's need-area. The student might, in fact, already be working with a professional. You might see if you can have a conference with them.

As I suggested in a comment, get connected to the APCS community and ask for advice in their fora. Do the same for the ACM SIGCSE group.

It is probably too late to modify your curriculum, though others in your school should do some anticipatory planning for helping this student in the future. It may require some curricular changes generally. I would suggest, however, that curricular updates consider changes that benefit all the students, not just the one.

My go-to suggestion for many things is to incorporate teamwork into the curriculum as much as possible. Every student learns differently, not just the blind student. Every student can contribute to a team, though different students contribute differently. Presumably the student has skills that compensate for lack of sight. Try to bring them to bear in the class so that the student is a part of things, not an outlier. For example, he might have an exceptional memory or an exceptional organizational ability. All of these are needed by professionals and can be capitalized on in the classroom.

In taking APCS the student is obviously not looking for an easy way out. But do what you can to make the classroom a supportive community that benefits all students.

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A language called Quorum is a lot like Python but optimized across a few more syntactic details, and the corresponding development environment is designed with the blind in mind. https://quorumlanguage.com/ This might fit especially well with the use case where most students are using Python.

A 2016 blog about CSed (actually a response to a blog post) points to

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I think it is very important to start by discovering what the student wants. What do they think computer science is. It is usually not the same as what we think it is, and sometime a long way off, that they should be doing a different course, or an adapted course.

Therefore find out what your student is planning to use there computer science for. What job they may want to do, and why. What their interests are.

Focus on them as a person, not on their disability. Then look to see what problem caused by their lack of sight, need solving.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree. The curriculum for this person could be focused on their real interests, instead of making them slog through a lot of peripheral things. If someone was interested in mountain climbing but had had a stroke we could help them reach their objective, and not require a ballet class at the same time. $\endgroup$ – user737 Sep 1 '17 at 11:53
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The HS curriculum of PLtW appears to use the Python programming language. Python can be learned and used from a command-line plus text editor, with zero graphics, which is good for screen readers.

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Have you looked up some recent work in the area and reached out to the authors? For instance: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1953323&CFID=805127740&CFTOKEN=78235282

As many academic articles are, that's behind a paywall, but it's a paywall that many in the community have a key to, so I figured it'd be worth mentioning here. It might also be worth checking the authors' home pages, etc. as they are allowed to post it there as per ACM publishing agreements.

The abstract, however, is allowed to be shared, along with the title and authors, so here's that info:

Andreas M. Stefik, Christopher Hundhausen, and Derrick Smith. 2011. On the design of an educational infrastructure for the blind and visually impaired in computer science. In Proceedings of the 42nd ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (SIGCSE '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 571-576. DOI=http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/1953163.1953323

Abstract:

The blind and visually impaired community is significantly underrepresented in computer science. Students who wish to enter the discipline must overcome significant technological and educational barriers to succeed. In an attempt to help this population, we are engaged in a three-year research project to build an educational infrastructure for blind and visually impaired middle and high school students. Our primary research goal is to begin forging a multi-sensory educational infrastructure for the blind across the United States. We present here two preliminary results from this research: 1) a new auditory programming environment called Sodbeans, a programming language called Hop, and a multi-sensory (sound and touch) curriculum, and 2) an empirical study of our first summer workshop with the blind students. Results show that students reported a significant increase in programming self-efficacy after participating in our camp.

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