Demetria Ober now knows first-hand that being visually impaired doesn’t have to stop you from writing software. Or flying a drone.
Ober and fellow students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired spent Wednesday morning with a team from Apple Inc. learning to code and then using the code to pilot small drones.
“It’s really cool because a lot of us really good on computers and want to create apps, but there aren’t the tools,” said Ober, 18, who is legally blind. “This technology opens up more possibilities.”
The event was Apple’s first in-school coding session for students who are blind and low vision.
During the session, 17 students ranging from high school juniors to recent grads learned to write and develop their own code on an iPad, without ever having to see the screen.
The software is part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum, which is designed to be accessible to all students including those with vision or other disabilities.
Using Apple’s VoiceOver screen-reading technology, students and visiting Apple engineers worked their way through a series of 3D puzzles to learn to code.
After an hour-long session in the school library, students cheered when they were told they would use the software to fly small aerial drones. After a little practice, they headed outside with their iPads to use their new coding skills to fly and control the buzzing drones high in the sky.
The drones are made by Parrott, a company known for its Bluetooth hands-free car speakerphones. The small, unmanned drone can be controlled Apple WiFi-enabled devices.
“We see this as a way to get them interested in coding and realize this could open job opportunities,” said Vicki Davidson, a technology teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “Apple has opened up a whole new world for kids by giving them instant access to information and research, and now coding.”
By visiting and working with students, Apple also benefits, Davidson said.
“Kids are always good testers for things,” she said. “This is another way for Apple to get some real live feedback.”
Everyone Can Code was designed by Apple to help anyone learn how to code. The program includes a range of free resources, from helping students explore basic coding concepts to building fully functional apps.
“When we said everyone should be able to code, we really meant everyone,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s director of accessibility. “Hopefully these kids will leave this session and continue coding for a long time. Maybe it can inspire where their careers can go.”
Apple held the coding session ahead of South by Southwest 2018’s Innovations in Accessibility event on March 15 at the downtown Hilton Austin.
At the SXSW event, Herrlinger will join Richard Ellenson of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and accessibility advocate Haben Girma to discuss innovation in accessibility.
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