Computer Science Education
SAS and Sphero Address Coding Needs of Students with Visual Impairments
- By Dian Schaffhauser
and education technology company
Sphero are working together to bring data analytics
and robot coding — along with soft skills — to students with visual
At the heart of the
initiative is SAS
CodeSnaps, a free app designed to be used in
classrooms, camps and clubs, to teach kids the basics of computer
science, including how to code. The students work together and
problem-solve to take on programming challenges using printed coding
blocks. When blocks are scanned with the SAS CodeSnaps app, the
program executes on a Sphero robot, such as the BOLT,
The printable blocks
are available in 10 languages. Now the collection also includes an
English braille version.
SAS worked with the
School for the Blind to adapt CodeSnaps to meet the
needs of students with visual impairments and blindness. Now braille
is part of the code blocks, and lessons can incorporate a tactile
device, such as a measuring stick to measure distances.
manager of Perkins'
Paths to Technology website, helped create activities
that use noise to help students identify the robot's movements.
The activities were
tested during a coding
challenge with the Coding Club at The
Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, NC. The challenge
required students (teams of boys against girls) to send their Sphero
through the course, including traveling to a trash can, then going
behind it and crossing the finish line.
sitting on the sidelines or relying on a sighted peer's descriptions,
students who are blind or low-vision can fully participate in every
aspect of the coding activity," said Brauner, in a press
release. "With the physical course, SAS CodeSnaps braille blocks
and a Sphero robot, blind and low-vision students are studying the
physical obstacle course, writing code using the SAS CodeSnaps
braille blocks, and following the Sphero robot auditorily."
should have the opportunity to learn to code," added Ed Summers,
director of accessibility at SAS. "With CodeSnaps' interactive,
customized resources, teachers of students with visual impairments
can find creative ways to integrate computer science into any
subject, engaging students with sound and touch."
This is far from
SAS' first foray into accessibility. In 2017, the company launched
Graphics Accelerator, a tool for making data
visualizations accessible to people with visual impairments. SAS
Graphics Accelerator generates alternative presentations of SAS data
visualizations, including verbal descriptions, tabular data and
interactive sonification, which uses non-speech audio to convey
details about the graph. Users rely on sound rather than sight to
explore bar charts, time series plots, heat maps, line charts,
scatter plots and histograms. For example, a sonic representation of
a bar graph will shift where the sound is coming from to indicate
movement along the x-axis and changes the pitch to indicate higher or
lower values to designate the y-axis.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.