Introducing Computer Science to Visually Impaired Youth


With plenty of freely available resources, anyone with an Internet connection can pick up computer science today. The benefits to learning the subject is manifold; for instance, it imparts problem solving and critical thinking skills which are crucial to embarking on a successful career today—in any industry, for anyone.

Microsoft held two Hour of Code sessions on coding for students at the Philippine National School for the Blind (PNSB), and also collaborated with Filipino nonprofit, Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV), to introduce more visually impaired youth to computer scienceand ultimately drive digital inclusion.

“Most jobs today require interaction with technology, which is why being computer literate is so important in the 21st century,” explained Rose Condes, the principal of PNSB. “Our students no longer want to be masseuses after they graduate. They want the opportunity to be able to keep up with the changing times. Through IT workshops such as the Hour of Code, we can prepare them for the workplace of tomorrow, and open up a world of opportunities previously inaccessible.”

Held on 15 January, two three-hour IT sessions challenged students to complete 14 levels in the game Minecraft, with every successful completion of each level revealing a new code that could be applied in the next. It was no easy task, but 16-year-old participant Mark Christian Evangelista found himself thoroughly enjoying the session.

“Initially, I found it difficult because I had to use my mind at every step of the way. But once I’d gotten the hang of it, it was so fun!” enthused Mark. “It sparked a strong curiosity in me to understand the mechanics behind some of the games I came across before. Who knows, with enough knowledge and experience, I can even create a game or program that I can proudly call mine!”

Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) began the sessions with an introduction to coding, before giving the students a chance to try it for themselves.

Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) began the sessions with an introduction to coding, before giving the students a chance to try it for themselves.

 

(From left) Ms Rose Condes, Principal of PNSB; Ms Mabel Gaerlan, Information Communications and Technology teacher at PNSB; and the PNSB students from Grade 11, who were proudly holding their Certificates of Completion they received at the end of the session.

(From left) Ms Rose Condes, Principal of PNSB; Ms Mabel Gaerlan, Information Communications and Technology teacher at PNSB; and the PNSB students from Grade 11, who were proudly holding their Certificates of Completion they received at the end of the session.

 

Meanwhile, ATRIEV is working with Microsoft on Coding for Accessibility, a Microsoft YouthSpark programme, to train blind and low vision Filipino youth on computer science with a practical application in web accessibility.

 

ATRIEV hired and trained visually impaired instructors, so that they can better explain fundamental computer science concepts in the context of the students’ special learning needs.

ATRIEV hired and trained visually impaired instructors, so that they can better explain fundamental computer science concepts in the context of the students’ special learning needs.

 

Coding for Accessibility is being carried out in three phases. Phase 1 is on Digital Literacy which will provide basic and functional computer literacy and productivity using the Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum. Phase 2 is an Introduction to Computer Science and Basic Web Publishing where students will learn HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Phase 3 involves one-on-one coaching and tutorials for students who opt to enrol in formal computer science courses in schools in the Philippines.

The project will culminate in a hackathon of the blind for the blind, in which participants are tasked to develop applications that will make websites accessible and present accessibility audit reports of websites and scripts. The hackathon will also be the venue for a policy forum to help increase awareness of how computer science can better respond to the call for web accessibility, and what that entails in policy, decision making, and implementation.

“What I like about Coding for Accessibility, is that it responds to the needs of people with physical disabilities,” said Raul Cortez, Director for Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs (CELA) in Microsoft Philippines. “While there is improved access to education, many people with physical disabilities are still unable to attend school due to poverty and the lack of accommodation. Coding for Accessibility gives them the opportunity to pick up new skills and broaden their horizons.”

Learn more about the Hour of Code, or visit the Microsoft Philippines News Center for more information on the Coding for Accessibility programme in the country.

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