Title: Understanding and Improving the Educational Experiences of Blind Programmers
Advisor: Richard Ladner
Supervisory Committee: Richard Ladner (Chair), Jennifer Turns (GSR, HCDE), Katharina Reinecke, Alan Borning, and Andy Ko (iSchool)
Abstract: Teaching people with disabilities tech skills empowers them to create solutions to problems they encounter. However, computer science is taught in a highly visual manner which can present barriers for people who are blind. The goal of this dissertation is to understand what those barriers are and to present the projects I have done to decrease those barriers.
The first projects I present look at the barriers that blind students face. I first present the results of my survey and interviews with blind graduates with degrees in computer science or related fields. This work highlights the many barriers that these blind students overcame when they were in college. We then follow-up on one of the barriers mentioned, access to technology, by doing a preliminary accessibility evaluation of six popular integrated development environments (IDEs) and code editors. I found that half were unusable and all have some inaccessible portions.
As access to visual information is one of the barriers in computer science education, I present three projects I have done to increase access to visual information in computer science. The first project is Tactile Graphics with a Voice (TGV). This project investigated an alternative to Braille labels for those that don’t know Braille and showed that TGV was a viable solution. The next project was StructJumper, which creates a modified abstract syntax tree which blind programmers can use to navigate through code. The results of the evaluation show that users could navigate quicker and easily determine the relationships of lines of code. The final project I present is a dynamic graph tool which has two different modes for handling focus changes when moving between graphs. I found that users can use both modes to answer questions about changes in graphs and want access to both modes plus others to be able to select the appropriate mode for the task.
These projects work towards the goal of making computer science education more accessible to blind students. By identifying the barriers that exist and creating solutions to overcome them, we can increase the number of blind students in computer science.