Posted by CSTA Conference Committee on Apr 28, 2023

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We know how hard it is to choose which sessions to attend, so if you’re looking to expand your accessibility knowledge, we’ve highlighted four featured sessions to check out at CSTA 2023.

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Every individual, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities, should have equal access to technology education and resources. As our society continues to turn digital, it has become apparent just how necessary skills in computer science have become. Every student should leave school with a confident foundation in CS, yet we don’t often have the tools, knowledge, or resources to teach to every student. With the rapid advancement of technology, it is essential that computer science education is inclusive and accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. In this context, accessibility encompasses a range of aspects, such as the design of learning materials, software and hardware tools, as well as the provision of support and accommodations to learners with diverse needs.

The CSTA annual conference is a gathering of the world’s largest computer science department and is full of PD you actually want to attend. We have speakers and breakout sessions dedicated to the topic of accessibility at this year’s event. We know how hard it is to choose which sessions to attend, so if you’re looking to expand your accessibility knowledge, we’ve highlighted four featured sessions to check out this year. 

Collaborative Coding for All: Introductory CS for Students with Visual Impairments

Presented by Jennifer Sabourin and Diane Brauner, our first recommended session takes place on July 11, at 11:55 a.m. ET. The breakout session helps educators to discover SAS CodeSnaps, a free robotic coding tool that uses tangible coding blocks to engage both sighted and visually impaired learners.

Resources to teach children coding are plentiful, but coding apps for blind and visually impaired children—a group that accounts for 3% of people under age 18—are not. Those tools that do exist frequently offer different experiences for students with visual impairments, further separating them from their sighted peers.  

SAS CodeSnaps offers a collaborative coding environment that allows students of all abilities to work together to solve coding challenges. Printed, tangible coding blocks adapted with Braille are used to write programs, then scanned into the app to be executed on a connected robot.  In this workshop, we’ll provide a tutorial on SAS CodeSnaps and give lesson and activity examples that meet the needs of students with visual impairments. We’ll begin with an overview of how the app works, then share detailed instructions for running activities in the classroom. We’ll show two approaches to creating braille blocks depending on the resources available in your classroom. We will present lesson activities and modifications designed to support students with visual impairments and discuss additional challenges that need to be considered to effectively support these students. Finally, participants will collaboratively brainstorm lesson activities that can engage both sighted and visually impaired students.

Designing for Accessibility: Empathy in the Elementary Computing Classroom

Our second recommendation is presented by Elizabeth Bacon and Kevin Driscoll. This workshop starts at 1 p.m. ET on July 11. Their talk helps to promote empathy and inclusion by incorporating accessibility into user-centered design activities. 

Accessibility is an integral part of the design process, helping developers to meet the needs of the widest possible range of users. Even our youngest learners can engage in and appreciate accessible design practices. This workshop will present a model for accessibility and disability that encourages inclusive design. The group will engage in student-facing activities that promote empathy and encourage accessible design practices, then collaborate to develop strategies to incorporate accessibility into projects they already run with students. Participants will leave with a set of resources for scaffolding the development of inclusive design skills, including a sample project and framework for designing their own accessibility lessons.

CS Inclusion: Strategies for Including Students with Dis/Abilities in K-12 CS

Presented by Maya Israel, Debra Kelly Thomas, and Joanne Barrett, the CS Inclusion workshop explores strategies to support students with disabilities in computer science education. This session takes place at 1 p.m. on July 11. 

This session explores strategies for including students with disabilities in K–12 computer science education through an examination of inclusive and accessible practices. We will apply universal design for learning (UDL) and high-leverage practices (HLP) to K–12 CS education with specific action steps, examples, and tools. Throughout this session, participants will be exposed to resources and tools to support students with disabilities, and will be invited to reflect and consider applications within a wide range of instructional contexts. Whether you are a novice to inclusive and accessible practices or a seasoned veteran, this session will strengthen your skills to broaden participation, frame instruction, and address learner variability.

Improving Access for Deaf Learners in CS, Data, and Cybersecurity. 

Our final recommended session is presented by Gary Quinn, Audrey Cameron, and Kate Farrell and covers how one team developed 500 signs for a wide range of computing concepts. This session takes place on the final day of the conference at 11 a.m. ET. 

In American Sign Language, the sign for computer evokes mainframe reel-to-reel tape machines from the 1970s. In British Sign Language, the sign for computer science involves pretending to pour chemicals on a keyboard. Both languages lack signs for many of the terms Deaf CS students need to learn at the same pace as their peers. Imagine doing your job without the words for processor, variable, standard deviation, or having to describe or spell them each time!  The Scottish Sensory Centre at the University of Edinburgh has developed a set of 500 signs for terms relating to computing, data science, and cybersecurity. Our team of Deaf professionals worked hard to ensure that future learners would have all the signs they need for their computing studies. This session explores the issues Deaf learners face in schools, higher education, and the workplace, particularly in technology areas. Participants will learn how the team developed signs that are as conceptually accurate as possible, with related terms sharing the same core hand shapes. We’ll also discuss how sign language glossaries can be created and adopted in different languages to increase CS equity across the world.

Register for CSTA 2023

Be sure to check out the full conference program to read more about these events and plan which sessions you want to attend. If you haven’t registered for the annual conference yet, head over to the CSTA 2023 Home Page to secure your spot. We hope to see you there for three days of learning and community!

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