Including students with disabilities in computer science courses

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by Becky Palmer-Scott
Editor, SpecialEdTech.net

Consider that despite 100+ years of car manufacturing, there still isn’t a place to put a purse, because male car designers ignore this need even though about half the population carries one. Now apply this to software. If we want upcoming software programs to serve diverse needs, we need to teach computer science to diverse people, including students with disabilities. Opening this door will do much to help all our students succeed in life.

This is not only doable, it is being done. People who are blind, deaf, learning disabled, and mobility disabled have achieved successful careers in computer science, as shown in the video “How Can We Include Students with Disabilities in Computing Courses?” by DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) from the University of Washington.

Teachers can play an important role in encouraging students with disabilities by giving them access to computer science classes and also by applying universal design, so all students have equal access to the information. This means using multi-modal instruction, such as not only speaking the instruction to the class, but having the class discuss it in small groups, writing the instruction on an overhead projector, and showing videos.

Successful computer science professionals from the DO-IT video said the following helped them achieve success during school:

  • Textbooks on tape
  • Text in an electronic format which a screen reader could read aloud
  • Note takers, who transcribed notes into Braille, when needed. This included creating embossed versions of diagrams
  • Extended time on tests

Here are a few other tips from the video:

For more ideas, see code.org/equity, Equal Access: Inclusive Strategies for Teaching Students with Disabilities, AccessCS10K, which is dedicated to including students with disabilities in computing education, and AccessComputing, which connects high school and college students with mentors.

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