SAS and Sphero Address Coding Needs of Students with Visual Impairments – T.H.E. Journal

Computer Science Education

Data analyticscompany SASand education technology companySphero are working together to bring data analyticsand robot coding along with soft skills to students with visualimpairments.

At the heart of theinitiative is SASCodeSnaps, a free app designed to be used inclassrooms, camps and clubs, to teach kids the basics of computerscience, including how to code. The students work together andproblem-solve to take on programming challenges using printed codingblocks. When blocks are scanned with the SAS CodeSnaps app, theprogram executes on a Sphero robot, such as the BOLT,SPRK+or SpheroMini.

The printable blocksare available in 10 languages. Now the collection also includes anEnglish braille version.

SAS worked with thePerkinsSchool for the Blind to adapt CodeSnaps to meet theneeds of students with visual impairments and blindness. Now brailleis part of the code blocks, and lessons can incorporate a tactiledevice, such as a measuring stick to measure distances.

Diane Brauner,manager of Perkins'Paths to Technology website, helped create activitiesthat use noise to help students identify the robot's movements.

The activities weretested during a codingchallenge with the Coding Club at TheGovernor Morehead School in Raleigh, NC. The challengerequired students (teams of boys against girls) to send their Spherothrough the course, including traveling to a trash can, then goingbehind it and crossing the finish line.

"No longersitting on the sidelines or relying on a sighted peer's descriptions,students who are blind or low-vision can fully participate in everyaspect of the coding activity," said Brauner, in a pressrelease. "With the physical course, SAS CodeSnaps braille blocksand a Sphero robot, blind and low-vision students are studying thephysical obstacle course, writing code using the SAS CodeSnapsbraille blocks, and following the Sphero robot auditorily."

"Every studentshould 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 impairmentscan find creative ways to integrate computer science into anysubject, engaging students with sound and touch."

This is far fromSAS' first foray into accessibility. In 2017, the company launchedSASGraphics Accelerator, a tool for making datavisualizations accessible to people with visual impairments. SASGraphics Accelerator generates alternative presentations of SAS datavisualizations, including verbal descriptions, tabular data andinteractive sonification, which uses non-speech audio to conveydetails about the graph. Users rely on sound rather than sight toexplore bar charts, time series plots, heat maps, line charts,scatter plots and histograms. For example, a sonic representation ofa bar graph will shift where the sound is coming from to indicatemovement along the x-axis and changes the pitch to indicate higher orlower values to designate the y-axis.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [emailprotected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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SAS and Sphero Address Coding Needs of Students with Visual Impairments - T.H.E. Journal

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