Understanding and Improving Blind Students’ Access to Visual Information in Computer Science Education
Baker, Catherine Marie
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Teaching people with disabilities tech skills empowers them to create solutions to problems they encounter and prepares them for careers. However, computer science is typically taught in a highly visual manner which can present barriers for people who are blind. The goal of this dissertation is to understand and decrease those barriers. The first projects I present looked at the barriers that blind students face. I first present the results of my survey and interviews with blind students with degrees in computer science or related fields. This work highlighted the many barriers that these blind students faced. I then followed-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 had some inaccessible portions. As access to visual information is a barrier in computer science education, I present three projects I have done to decrease this barrier. The first project is Tactile Graphics with a Voice (TGV). This project investigated an alternative to Braille labels for those who do not know Braille and showed that TGV was a potential alternative. The next project was StructJumper, which created a modified abstract syntax tree that blind programmers could use to navigate through code with their screen reader. The evaluation showed that users could navigate more quickly and easily determine the relationships of lines of code when they were using StructJumper compared to when they were not. Finally, I present a tool for dynamic graphs (the type with nodes and edges) which had two different modes for handling focus changes when moving between graphs. I found that the modes support different approaches for exploring the graphs and therefore preferences are mixed based on the user’s preferred approach. However, both modes had similar accuracy in completing the tasks. These projects are a first step 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 support increasing the number of blind students in computer science.