Starting a new coding program for the blind
I have helped to build LaunchCode, a nonprofit startup, which teaches thousands of people coding in-person and places them into coding jobs. We have innovated ways give this service to people for free and help hundreds of unemployed people get coding jobs. We have grown the organization to national scale, got praised by President Obama, and won MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge.
I am currently working on a new MIT-spinoff startup Mediate, which is developing computer vision solutions for the visually impaired and the blind. (Our first app will be available in iPhones in the next few months).
While working on my new startup, I have met more and more people with visual disabilities and started thinking about whether I can use my experiences from LaunchCode to help the visually impaired and blind community learn coding and get tech jobs.
I was wondering about whether there are already some programs that help someone with visual impairments or blindness learn coding enough to get a tech job. I am sure many people here have thoughts about this. I would love to hear their feedback and suggestions.
If anyone wants to explore this idea together, I would also love to band together.
Looking forward to hearing your responses.
This is a great opportunity for people that are blind and visually impaired. I would be delighted to try out your application when it comes out, also I would love to do coding and get a job that’s based with coding. If there is anything that I can do to help please let me know.
I think I'm interested in this too. I've been a screen reader user since the mid-90s, and prior to that I used a couple of AppleIIE computers with Textalker. Anyone remember Textalker? Anyway, I have become very passionate about section 508 of the Rehab Act. But I've never really done any programming per se. The platform where my journal is hosted offers some stuff, and I have in fact started to learn a bit over there. It's only for their platform though as far as I'm aware, but those folks are very supportive of newbies and not at all intimidating. But your project also sounds good.
I’m interested in coding and the app that is coming out... is it for beta testing?
I am very interested in this as well. There are lots of free tutorials out there that are accessible but I do not know of any geared specifically for the visually impaired. Most times it is those of us who are visually impaired that have to adapt the programs to meet our needs. What kind of coding are you going to be concentrating on?
I have many years of development experience. After already being a programmer, my vision got a lot worse and I used Voiceover for a few months a few years ago. I still struggle with vision issues while trying to use dev environments (primarily XCode). I would love to see improvements in the usability of XCode, and help to make it and other tools usable for blind programmers.
It's always good to see an effort to make learning to code interactive for the visually impaired. If you are looking for beta testers, I would also be very interested in helping. One thing I've noticed is that some of the newbie orientated coding languages that are specifically learning environments take a lot of the actual coding away as it's more drag-n-drop (I'm looking at you, Scratch.) But more than that, we're missing a lot if actual interactive coding environments for the blind and visually impaired to use that are actually based on mainstream programming languages and aren't limited in nature. Quorum, for example, is java-based, and can actually become pretty advanced. If you're interested in the block-based programming concept used mostly in educational settings, then you might want to have a look at https://codejumper.com/. A bit problem in this space is that a lot of the toys (such as the Cosmo Robot) are pitifully lacking accessibility. Microsoft and APH decided to rectify that and release something quite similar to that concept, but completely accessible.
Hi, I'm not developper, and I have not idea about it, but I find very interested of course, if you want and if you find useful, discussing about what kind of apps are not on the market, and could be sueful, for blind and visual impared people, but not only, perhpas for everyone too. Thanks Maria
One of the biggest problems is that many widely used IDEs are not accessible or not sufficiently accessible with screen readers.
So, for example, there is quite an active community of blind people who use R. We found various work-arounds, but one major disadvantage is that the standard R IDE, called R Studio, is not at all accessible.
Similarly, a new language like Julia, incidentally developed at MIT, typically uses Atom notebooks, that are also not accessible. You could work around this by coding in something like Notepad++ and running code from the command line, but the impact of this is that blind people have to use work-arounds from the word go - and as a result the barrier to entry is higher. If you are dedicated to figuring things out you get there in the end, but i suspect many blind people drop out along the way simply because of the additional difficulties created by poor accessibility of IDEs.
In my view some more guides for blind people who want to learn to programme would be useful, but it will remain difficult as long as most IDEs are not accessible. Getting the R Studio or Julia people to pay more attention to this is in my view to most impactful intervention to be made. Unfortunately, when i previously contacted the R Studio people about this they showed very little interest. As often is the case, accessibility is an after-thought.
Hello! I have found freecodecamp.or to be a very useful coding resource. All lessons are fully accessible, and the community is receptive to the needs of learners with disabilities. I know of at least one blind man who completed the program and is now a Web developer. I would be very interested in working with you; I am a blind computer science student, and am currently trying to find workarounds for all the inaccessible programs we are using.
Hi. I work in a reporting/analyst role where I do some web development and coding. I’ve also been a hobbyist programmer for most of my life. I am legally blind and your idea is very interesting to me!
Great idea on the coding program. Here is some information you may find useful. You should definitely check out the work done by Access Computing at University of Washington towards increasing participation of students with disabilities in computing careers. In terms of tool support and accessibility, there has been some work done in this space. E.G. StructJumper, Blocks4All, CodeTalk and this paper that talks about navigating code using ASTs. My current research as a part of my PhD is around improving accessibility of programming environments for screen reader users and am happy to chat more in this regard.
Hey Heather, I would love to talk to you about your coding experience and how you adapted. Your experience could help me understand the challenges and solutions better. Would you mind sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org? Maybe we can find a time to talk on the phone.
It is great to hear that FreeCodeCamp is accessible. Did anyone try it out? What do people think about it?
I have been trying out free code camp to sharpen up my html skills. On the windows side it is very accessible. However I find it nearly completely inaccessible on the mac side. The main issue with mac is that the editor they use does not work well at all with voiceover in safari. I have sent in a bug report with a screen cast to apples accessibility team on this.
From personal experience I would stick with Windows if your a blind programmer especially if your already a windows user. I've found Windows to be getting much better with tools such as Windows Subsystem for Linux being fairly accessible. I used to own a Macbook but could never do iOS development do to Voiceover and interface builder not working well together. Apple does not appear to care since I couldn't find any resources directly from Apple on how you are supposed to create an interface using Voiceover. This may get better with the new Swift UI and Xcode beta. Someone else will have to let me know though since I can't justify spending $1000 on a new computer that may or may not be accessible when I have a perfectly functioning windows laptop.
Hi Emre, I graduated from college with a political science degree and have been interested in learning to code for the last few months because on the side of my regular job, I write about accessibility and technology and do some website testing with Jaws. I want to do this full time, but I can't unless i have at least some coding skills. I have contacted several bootcamp programs but have had no luck so far.
If you do come up with something, or if you know of any formal programs that are accommodating, I would really like to know about them.
I would be interested in this, and even more interested if learning html/web dev was an option. I have been trying to find an accessible way to learn web dev and computer programming (which I took a few classes in when I was sighted, prior to 2006), but have just ended up with a lot of brickwall-caused headaches. When I have come across an article or post online about teaching coding to blind people, it’s always for kids. I tried a web dev class on coursera a while back (since the app seemed pretty good, and they claimed to be super inclusive and such), but after discovering some small, but mighty accessibility issues as I began to try to participate in the class/complete the coursework, I ended up out $50, not much more knowledgeable, and pissed. Finally, and probably needless to say, all the books on coding, web dev, etc., of which I’v downloaded many from bookshare, are super graphical, so, yeah, far from helpful. I’ll stop ranting for now, and just say that I am really, really glad you are exploring developing this—you rock!
Also, just read your post, Sophie, and I am in a similar boat. I have done website testing on the side for a number of years, but only about 1/4th of it’s been paid, and not that much. I have a MPA, Master’s in Public Affairs, and work in politics, but would like to do more testing and web dev on the side and I need to learn web dev to do that! It’s nice to get on here and discover that I’m not as alone as I thought! :-)
For those who want to learn web dev and do accessibility testing I suggest the following. Go through the "Basic HTML and HTML5" course at
After your done with that sign up at
and go through there training materials. Doing the HTML course will make the accessibility specific training much easier to complete.
Thanks for all the responses. It seems like there is high interest in learning coding.
I think it would be great to start by preparing a guide for what to learn, how to learn, and where to ask for help. That way we can also get a good idea on where the resources fall short and how we can complement them. If anyone would like to help me out, please email me at email@example.com
Are there any specific coding roles or industries that coders with visual impairments found to be the most welcoming? If there was a coding-oriented job training, what would be the smartest roles to target? Any thoughts are welcome.
So, I want to be a coder, not necessarily a computer scientist. While that may be the coder profession, I'm put off by the high level math and other requirements. 99.9 percent of books I read on coding has nothing to do with the high level math they say you need for computer science. But that's the thing, computer science isn't just about learning to code, it's learning how a computer functions at the back end. When I ask about anything coding related, the college always comes back with computer science. There seems to be a disconnect with education and programs like Apple's Everyone can Code. With those programs vs. the education system, the DIY learning tries to introduce these concepts early on so that by the time you reach High School, perhaps you'll have enough experience to go on and do the unnecessary coursework. I'm work-ready now and wanted to code as a career, but nobody was talking about computer science in High School, let alone Middle School to even motivate me in that direction. I just got done with college and I can go back, but I had to resort to picking Liberal Arts just to graduate with something.
Hi again. I just briefly checked out the Free Code Camp website and it looks pretty accessible with VoiceOver. I saw GitHub mentioned on there, which peeked my curiosity some more. I signed up on GitHub not too long ago, because a neighbor and I were going to launch a cooking business and he wanted me to create a website for our business. Long story short, that business is taking a hiatus at least for now and he's actually on vacation this week. So I have some time to myself, and among other things I'm going to investigate this further. It turns out that GitHub is also being used by the platform where my journal is hosted.
I am a blind developer who does a lot of back-end programming working with REST services and SQL databases. I work in Java for the language but the same type of job should be doable with dotnet. I've used Visual Studio on windows with Jaws as a screen reader and accessibility is quite good.
TO the people that have done part time accessibility testing how do you get started? I'm very technical and would like to try and make some extra money on the side by doing accessibility testing.
I use Emacs as my IDE for HTML/Markdown/Org-mode. I'd want to learn swift, with SwiftUI for building interfaces. Alternatively, Python is also good. I use Emacs, with Emacspeak, on a Mac. It also works on Linux, and there is a very out-of-date port to Windows. It uses speech changes to denote text attributes, like syntax highlighting and, particularly useful, a sound when one comes across a line with an error on it. Besides coding, I also use it for writing course material in Org-mode and export that to HTML, and reading ePUB books. Yes, Emacs is a very versatile IDE, lol.
I'm also very interested. I have no experience in coding, but I've often though of trying as I have no many ideas but don't want to hire help, I want to do it all myself if at all possible. I'm horrible at math so that won't work out. Is there anything for the very beginner who can't do math and can't do anything past math 120?
Thanks for the all the responses to my initial message.
My friend Cheryl Cumings, who currently runs a summer code bootcamp for visually impaired youth, is starting a remote, introductory coding class. I am attaching the details below.
Our Space Our Place, Inc. and Vision aid is offering a Coding Class
For blind or low vision adults age 21 years and older
This is an introduction to HTML and CSS.
Location: Online- using Zoom
Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm (Eastern Time)
Beginning Thursday October 3, this class meets every week until December 19. Office hours will be on Sunday from 1:00 pm– 3:00 pm (Eastern Time): an opportunity to work more directly with the Instructor.
To participate you must be a proficient user of Windows and the adaptive software you use to access your computer
After 9 weeks in class you will:
· Develop a web page
· Know how to upload and to make changes to your web page
· Have a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS
· Gain marketable skills for employment
For those interested who are running from what I can make out Free Code Camp is now pretty much fully accessible. As someone said earlier you probably want to run windows as accessibility seems to be better in the coding relm.
I’m late in to this topic but I want to be a programmer to. I have been wanting to do it since I was 5 years old and I was always told that it was not for blind people just sited ones. I was told I wasn’t smart enough too. I would love to prove everyone rong!!!
I would love to contribute to this project very much if it is still going on. I am currently learning python with mit ooc.
I've been fiddling around with web design, on and off since about 2003. I'm using Abyss Web Server on a 2014 Mac mini, and hand-coding using TextMate which, by the way, is a killer coding app!
What I find particularly frustrating is trying to view the results of my work in the browser. Here's what I'm getting at.
When I use the VO command VO+t to read the attributes of different elements on the page, some are read, some not. For example, in the home page I'm working on, I've got my links set to black text on light blue background, the link is bold, italic and underlined, and it's set to 1.1em, which displays as 18 point, as the base font is 16 point. Now, if those links are in a nav bar, where the links are made to look like buttons, using CSS, I can't see their attributes, even though VO voices them as links. Similarly, if those links are in an unordered or ordered list, even without CSS styling, beyond what one would do for a normal link, VO Still can't discern their attributes. Same thing in tables, text enclosed in the <article></article> tags, links within the text of normal paragraphs, and the like. Heck, just looking at text on a page, nothing special, all VO will tell you is the foreground color, not the background color too. Essentially, it's nearly impossible, on the Mac, to see the results of CSS on the vast majority of page elements. I'd love to be able to see every attribute - font, font weight, foreground colors, background colors, alignment, whether something is italic, underlined, etc, etc on any non-image element. You get the picture? In other words, with VO, I'd like to see the same things a sighted person would see in their browser.
So, my question is, is there any Mac software which allows this? Any setting in Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Opera, for Mac, which will facilitate this? Do Windows screen readers/browsers allow one to do this? I know there are sighted folks out there who'd be willing to help, but it'd sure be nice to do web design as independently as possible.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!