Helping visually impaired students learn computer science
When you use a computer you typically read an article, watch a video or access information from a graph. These may seem like simple tasks, but to a person who is visually impaired, these tasks can be challenging.
One University of North Texas professor knows these challenges all too well. Stephanie Ludi works in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. She is also visually impaired.
“As an undergraduate I had the usual difficulties of learning about what computer science was,” said Ludi. “However, they were compounded with the extra issues of trying to follow lectures and labs due to not being able to see the board.”
Ludi turned her struggle into her strength. Using her understanding of what difficulties middle and high school students with visual impairments face when studying computing, she created curriculum and tools to help them overcome the obstacles. It’s a program that caught the attention of the White House, which recently touted Ludi in a news release stressing the importance of giving every American child the opportunity to learn computer science.
“Mainstream programs that teach computer science rely heavily on being able to see,” said Ludi. “As part of our work, we have carefully identified web resources and designed the software tools to help these students explore Computer Science. A lot of it is making things accessible with screen reader software that reads what is on the screen. For the program we’ve been working on that is acknowledged by The White House, we’ve taken a block based program, called Blockly, and modified it so that visually impaired students can create programs. For example, the program tells the student that they’ve selected a block with the keyboard versus having to see it and pick it up with the mouse.”
Making sure more students have the ability to learn computer science is also a priority for UNT’s Dean of Engineering, Costas Tsatsoulis.
“This year our computer science program is celebrating its 45th anniversary,” said Tsatsoulis. “We are home to the first computer science department in Texas and we are proud that in all these years we’ve been able to teach so many people. The program Ludi is working is one that will let us reach even more students and help us gain even more success stories.”
Ludi offers all her educational tools and curriculum online for free so that they can be used by any student. She believes that with schools starting to have more computer classes, it’s just a matter of time before more teachers will be using them.
“The biggest hope is to have some impact for teachers to present the curriculum in a more inclusive way and to help kids who want to pursue computer science,” said Ludi.”
— Tanya O'Neil, UNT news