Case Studies

We started by looking at the most common development environments that instructors used to write programs (Visual Studio, BlueJ, Eclipse, CeeBot, gcc, gdb, and XCode). The important thing to check was to see if the editor was accessible by a screen reader like JAWS, and if all the commands required to compile and run a program were available using short cut keyboard commands. Most of the students write programs in C++, Java, or Javascript. However, irrespective of the language that was used, the editor and the short cut keyboard commands were the critical components.

Watch this space for additional case studies in the near future.

C/C++ in Visual Studio

We first tested the Visual Studio environment using Angel Chesimet, a blind student from PSU. We found that with a little bit of help, she was able to create a new project, create a file and open it in the editor. The editor was readable by the JAWS screen reader and there were short cut commands for most commands. She was able to compile and run a basic program in about an hour. She concluded that with practice the product was accessible and that she would be able to write programs using Visual Studio.

C/C++ in XCode

XCode is very accessible with VoiceOver as long as the user is doing text based programming. Since all our students use XCode to test text based code, the mac should be very accessible when used with XCode, and VoiceOver. Since VoiceOver comes with the mac, there is no extra cost for the student. The interface builder for iOS apps is completely inaccessible with VoiceOver. As a result itís necessary to build the interface for any apps manually through code. Although this isn't very difficult, it is just time consuming! From the blogs and forums postings, users are generally pleased with XCode and VoiceOver.


Ceebot is a visual robotics program used in CS160 to teach basic programming concepts. Since it is visual and requires the use of a mouse, we concluded that there was no way it could be used by a blind student. An alternative programming language like Python would be an equally effective way to cover the outcomes of CS 160. Angel was once again very kind and patient to test some Python Interpreters for us which were unfortunately not readable by the JAWS screen reader. There is also another problem with python. The code blocks represented by indentation are a major stumbling block for the visually impaired. Research shows that a Braille display is the best solution for writing python programs. On the other hand, we could use something like visual basic for teaching basic programming concepts. The code can be written in visual studio, which is accessible, by keyboard short cut commands, and the language is easy for beginners to understand.

The theoretical part of this class is covered using materials from Virginia Techís Computer Science department. This materials uses images and Java applets in every module that is not accessible by visually impaired students. A reasonable alternative to this web material is to use the book, "Computer Science, An Overview" by Brookshear. The materials are almost parallel, but the quizzes need to be modified to reflect the contents of the book, as opposed to the web site.

Accessibility Survival Guide for Instructors, © 2014 by their respective authors, Marc Goodman, Gayathri Iyer, Supada Amornchat, Karen Sorensen, and Susan Watson