People with skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are in high demand in the workplace – and the field shows no signs of slowing down in the future. Computer science, including coding, is a viable career option for people who are blind or have visual impairments, because it’s all type-based, making it compatible with screen readers and other assistive technology.
Young people already have a knack for technology, having grown up with it. But building confidence in skills such as computer coding can give them a real head start in preparing for future careers. That’s what APH’s Code JumperTM is all about.
First designed by Microsoft® and developed by APH, Code Jumper makes coding a tactile experience that students can engage with to learn the basics of coding starting at an early age. Code Jumper makes learning fun: Students use its colorful plastic pods with oversized buttons and knobs connected by thick cords, similar to computer cords, to create computer code.
Code Jumper was first developed to teach students who are visually impaired coding basics that can lead to successful computer careers in adulthood, but there’s more to it than that. Cecily Morrison, Ph.D., MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire, for her work in inclusive design), principal researcher at Microsoft Research who was part of the team that designed Code Jumper, says during the research phase participants noted that self-efficacy was more important than actual training.
“We wanted to make sure that the self-efficacy of ‘I can do this’ is maintained in those early years,” she says. “In the studies, we were able to see significant increases in self-efficacy when children have access and they can try it – and do it. That’s going to be more important to their career choice than any skill they gain.”
Proof of Concept
Students who use Code Jumper – and their teachers – see for themselves how much it can boost both their skills and confidence.
Russell Hinderman, who is in the 8th grade, has been interested in computer coding since he was in the 4th grade. Blind since birth, Hinderman started learning how to code on his iPad, using the built-in VoiceOver app, which reads the text on the screen out loud to him.
When he started tech class in 7th grade, Hinderman’s teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) introduced him to APH’s Code Jumper because the materials being used by the rest of the class weren’t accessible to a student who is visually impaired. He says Code Jumper has improved his knowledge and sent him into the 8th grade being even better prepared.
“I had already learned to make actions happen by dragging them around on the computer, which Code Jumper reminds me to do because you have to plug in the pods from left to right in order, which is helpful,” he says. “It’s the same as playing a regular piano when I practice keyboard skills. It reminds me of coding because you’re going in order when you play scales.”
One of the things Hinderman likes best about Code Jumper is that it’s identical to the experience of coding on a tablet or computer. That was an intentional part of the design: matching the visual experience of using a computer to the tactile one of Code Jumper, according to Morrison.
“I like the feeling of achievement I get when I come in and get it done correctly,” Hinderman says. “That’s achievement and I love the word achievement.”
Computer Science Education Week is the second week of December – a great time to encourage the K-12 students in your life about the importance of developing these skills.
For more information about exciting computer science careers for people with visual impairments check out the 2021 and 2022 Coding Symposiums that APH ConnectCenter hosted with The California School for the Blind.