Teaching CS concepts to students who have no signs of visual impairment is already quite challenging in nature. I would like to know how does college CS professors present some of the visual topics to students who cannot see them.

For example, when discussing data structures, such as a graph, trees, etc, how do professors communicate the visual aspects of these structures to a student who might not be able to see them? I would imagine that failing to "picture" the structure will make it harder not just for those who can see, but even harder for those who cannot.

Has anyone had any experience in this?


2 Answers 2


First, good on you for trying to figure this out in advance.

I'd direct you to a few other questions on this site for some context: Teaching state transition diagrams to visually impaired (blind) students, Teaching a blind high school student, and from our sister site, https://matheducators.stackexchange.com/questions/2623/how-do-blind-people-learn-mathematics.

Many colleges appear to offer services to blind students, including the possibility of someone accompanying them to lessons.

For especially visual portions of lessons, such as trees, you can build models using legos and pipe cleaners, and have a guide, or even just a friendly student, modify the model as you lecture.

But more importantly than any of these things would probably be to sit down with the student in question before class starts, and discuss what they might find helpful. You can bring your ideas, but also listen to what they say. They are more familiar with this process than you are, and will probably be able to give you a very good sense of what they need in order to learn.

I'd make it a point to meet with this student twice more: once after a few weeks, and once midway through the semester, to check in and see how things are going, and find out if there are any further adaptations you need to make.

With some forethought, I'm sure you can made an excellent class for your blind student!

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your detailed answer. I should have been more clear on the fact that I am not a CS educator. In fact--maybe this might surprise you--I am a visually impaired high school student. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2 at 23:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NapoleonBonaparte You might consider re-asking your question phrased from that perspective, which would be very valuable. $\endgroup$
    – ggorlen
    Commented Mar 6 at 1:44

As a blind student, you may have no concept of visualisation, but I assume you must still have some concept of space, of geography and navigation, and of the placement of physical objects, since this can be sensed by touch, by hearing, and so on.

Data structures are about structuring the placement of data within a system of addressing.

This placement is important in computing because computers operate upon data, but the procedures used to drive the computer invariably reference areas of data storage (with each area distinguished by its address).

Whereas a food recipe for example may say "get the flour, get the butter, get the sugar", a typical computer program says "get the contents of the container labelled 'flour' in the cupboard labelled 'pantry', get the contents of the container labelled 'butter' in the appliance labelled 'fridge', get the contents of the container labelled 'sugar' on the surface labelled 'worktop'", and it works with whatever those contents are, or crashes if the kitchen layout is altered and the location no longer exists.

  • $\begingroup$ This does not answer the question; you have not addressed how CS professors communicate the visual aspects of data structures to a blind student. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @NapoleonBonaparte, I'm suggesting that there are no visual aspects, only spatial aspects. Although I'm not familiar with exactly how spatial information can be best conveyed to a blind person, I can imagine a verbal description, the use of embossed/engraved surfaces to represent maps, and analogies drawn with physically-structured spaces (such as a stockroom with shelves and bins marked systematically in Braille) could be effective possibilities. I assume a blind person is still capable of conjuring a spatial schematic in their mind's eye, because sight is not the only way to perceive space. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 14 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think it would be helpful if you include this information to your answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NapoleonBonaparte, it already is included, in the sense that we have engaged in a clarifying dialogue adjacent to the original answer. Essentially I've ended up frame-challenging your question because your additional remarks make clear how you think there is something intrinsically visual about data structures, which I deny. But when I originally wrote my answer, I was less clear that this was the issue at stake. (1/3) $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 14 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Rather, I thought either you were asking for alternatives about how to convey information that is conventionally conveyed using viewable artefacts (which by emphasising the spatial nature of data structures, I thought might trigger you to work out a method based on how you normally receive other information about spatial placement, given that I'm no expert on the blind, whereas you are blind), or potentially I sensed there could be some other misunderstanding about the nature of what data structures are (which led to the food recipe and kitchen analogy). (2/3) $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 14 at 23:23

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