Apple’s ‘Everyone Can Code’ courses are now available in braille

Apple teams with blind advocacy groups to make coding skills more accessible.

Apple, iOS, accessibility, blind, Swift, Swift Playgrounds, iPad, iOS

It’s possible the next big thing in app or operating systems development may be created by a blind or partially sighted developer, as Apple takes another step to make coding accessible to everybody.

Swift gets braille

Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum is already in use in schools, colleges, and homes worldwide.

Now it has partnered with the world-famous RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) to make its coding skills curriculum more accessible.

Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s director of accessibility programs, told me: “One of the things we found is that some blind students didn’t think coding was accessible to them. So, we’ve looked at how we get more blind students coding and are adding these new resources to the mix.”

RNIB is providing braille versions of the Swift Playgrounds graphics used in its coding course. These correspond to the 3D puzzles used to help teach the basics of coding. They let learners with sight problems understand the puzzles, enabling them to more easily resolve challenges using Swift.

You can already get similar tools in the U.S. where Apple worked with students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) to use VoiceOver and Swift Playgrounds to learn how to create code. Later on, the company announced plans to extend the course through eight deaf/blind schools.

Power to the people

These initiatives fix a problem in which people with sight or visual challenges using VoiceOver to learn to code using Swift had little clue as to where various on-display elements were seen.

With an increasingly digital future, it makes sense that every person should have the chance to learn programming and computer skills, Herrlinger explained.

“No one should have a point where someone says, 'No, you can’t do that because of your disability.' Our view is that if technology can be the scaffold that opens that door, that’s what we need to do.”

Swift Playgrounds has supported VoiceOver since launch, but by publishing the braille guides (also available to download if you happen to have a braille printer) the company hopes to help more people develop an understanding of code.

Apple has won praise and awards from multiple disabled advocacy organizations, and this is the latest achievement in its impressive track record in assistive technology.

It was the first company to make mass market touchscreens usable by blind or low-vision users with VoiceOver in 2009. It was also the first to put TTY support inside a smartphone, to enable Bluetooth connections between smartphones and hearing aids, and to offer Switch Control in its devices. Today, over 76 percent of blind people who use a mobile screen reader rely on iOS and VoiceOver, according to WebAIM.

It's all about empowerment

Coding may become a route to independence and employment for many more blind people once it is made more accessible.

This could be significant.

Over 70 percent of blind people are without employment, but 80 percent of those who are employed read braille, meaning braille is another language blind individuals should learn.

At work, the acquisition of technology and coding skills should empower blind and vision-impaired employees to engage in a wider variety of technology-assisted tasks than is possible without those skills. This kind of empowerment will matter a great deal in the AI/human staffed future workplace.

David Clarke, director of services at RNIB, puts it this way:

“We are delighted to have worked with Apple on this project to make their coding education app, Swift Playgrounds, more accessible for children and young people with visual impairment — so that they are able to access the same resources and information as their sighted peers and can fulfil their potential in the digital age.”

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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