I am anticipating a blind student in a class I teach in an upcoming semester, and I am preparing for this by asking around if anyone has had this situation for a discrete structures / theory of computation course with finite automata, pushdown automata, and Turing Machines. JFLAP doesn't appear to be accessible. I found one journal article on attempts to make it accessible to the visually impaired, but I don't really see any further advances on that.

I would like to know what options I might have to help this (and other) student in this position.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Now that you've done it, could you add in an answer? I'm dying to know what you did. That would be extremely helpful as a resource for the future. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ We ended up just getting him a tutor through our disability services. But I am pondering working to get JGRASP accessible somehow. I've even suggested it as a senior design project. $\endgroup$
    – Ginzorf
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ I happen to recall that one of the main authors of UPPAAL is blind. UPPAAL is much more than JFLAP but if you peel away the layers, there's a base of (finite) automata, their diagrammatic display, etc. It might make sense to reach out to the authors and inquire about the best way to handle all that because they sure have found a very good way to do this. $\endgroup$
    – Kai
    Commented Mar 3 at 10:36

2 Answers 2


Oof, this is tricky. It's traditionally so visual!

Can this student read Braile?

One option (if you have a TA, they could help prepare these) would be to use a builder toy with balls and transitions (something like this, perhaps) and preprinted braile labels on stickers that the student could hold for key examples. Make sure to include an arrow somewhere on each transition.

Improvised examples, such as in response to questions, would be trickier - you may have to construct the model and simply have a fellow student explain what each transition does as the blind student holds and feels it.

You could also bring in a Pez dispenser and some Pez candy for pushdown automata to help visualize the stack. (This is actually useful for sighted students as well.)

Finally, for both the stack in PDAs and the tape in turing machines, puffy stickers (such as a sheet of star stickers and a sheet of round stickers) might give the student a fighting chance to explore the state of operations along with the class.

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    $\begingroup$ Ben - thanks. That does give me some ideas. I had not thought of the puffy or 3d vinyl stickers. That may actually work! Great ideas. The builder toy looks interesting too. But that's definitely what I wanted. I just needed some ideas, and what you've provided is great. $\endgroup$
    – Ginzorf
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming the student can read Braille, you can use 3d printing to make almost anything. At Colorado State University, students have access to free 3D printing. I used a student to design and print templates to teach assembly language. This was a fun project for the creator and helped the blind student. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 23:42

Surely the main challenge is allowing the situation to be appreciated by word and by touch?

I'm not well-informed in the issue, but I assume blind students still have a mental representation of space and time, and can in principle read and appreciate any diagrams in which all encoded information has a 3D representation (such as embossed paper, texture variations, and so on).

I also assume they can write and (especially) draw, given suitable tooling.

Obviously also, you're dealing with someone with full hearing and verbal language capacity, and who might well be quite skilled at absorbing verbal explanations which most people would prefer in written form.

You'll probably also find that, where the sighted embellish diagrams systematically with colour and other intrinsically visual features, the blind are likely to find analogies in the quality of speech (or mechanically-generated noises).


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