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Teaching Modern Object-Oriented Programming to the Blind: An Instructor and Student Experience

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Emerging Computing and Information Technologies

Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1167.1 - 24.1167.14



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Paper Authors

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Charles B. Owen Michigan State University

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Sarah Coburn Michigan State University

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Jordyn Castor

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Teaching Modern Object-Oriented Programming to the Blind: An Instructor and Student ExperienceBlind computer science students face significant challenges in modern curriculums. Computerprogramming has seen extensive growth of visual tools and environments. Most end-userdevelopment is for visual environments, from graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to web pages. Thetool of choice has become the highly visual integrated development environment (IDE). Visualmodeling languages such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) are a major element of programunderstanding and design. All of these tools and methods are problematic for a blind student.This paper describes the challenges the author and a blind computer science student have facedas they have adapted tools, material, and assignments in an object-oriented programming course.The first significant problem was the lack of available tools for development. Where accessibletools exist, they are usually adaptations of existing visual tools with support for screen readersand more extensive keyboard commands. The accessibility support is often incomplete. Thecourse discussed in this paper utilizes NetBeans as a standard IDE. A version of NetBeans calledSodBeans exists which has been modified to provide some accessibility support. However,debugging in SodBeans is not accessible, so a mix of command line and IDE usage is requiredand the accessibility of the debugger is limited even in command line mode.The course uses a group of structured assignments called "Step Assignments" consisting oftutorials, code reading, and individual work. These lead to group assignments. Theseassignments have been GUI-based and highly visual in nature, building programs such as anaquarium simulator, animation system, and elevator simulator. An easy-to-use speech supportpackage was created that greatly enhanced the ability to work on these assignments.UML diagrams are particularly problematic. UML was created as a way to visually representstructure, behavior, and interaction in complex software systems. We have been able to create atextual representation of some UML diagrams utilized in the course, but this does not necessarilyhelp a blind student understand the ideas that the diagrams convey visually. UML diagrams donot lend themselves well to raised-dot representations due to the density of the diagrams. Toapproach this problem, a tactile representation using pins, cards, post-it notes, wire, and rubberbands was created that allows a diagram to be represented and manipulated in a way that thestructure can be felt, rather than seen.As the course proceeds, we are tackling the problems as they arise. The conventional approach toaccessibility (modification of programs and methods designed for sighted users) is notnecessarily the best solution. This paper details how some of these problems were tackled anddiscusses how tools can be better designed for the blind.

Owen, C. B., & Coburn, S., & Castor, J. (2014, June), Teaching Modern Object-Oriented Programming to the Blind: An Instructor and Student Experience Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23100

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