AccessCS10K: helping make high school computing courses more accessible and welcoming to students with disabilities


By: Richard E. Ladner
University of Washington

In 2010-2011, approximately 13 percent of K-12 students have a recognized disability according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This represents about 6.5 million students with disabilities in the K-12 education system. This only counts those students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990.   There are many more who have 504 plans (under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Students with 504 plans need some accommodation to attend school, but not an entire Individualized Education Plan (IEP) like those under IDEA. In any case, teachers of high school computing courses are likely to have students with disabilities in their classes.

One group of students, namely blind students, are already severely disadvantaged in high school computing classes that use programming tools such Scratch, Snap, Alice, Processing, Greenfoot, and other highly visual user interfaces that are generally inaccessible to blind users. Will teachers in these classes say, “Sorry you cannot take my computing course because you cannot use the tools we are using to teach programming?” Will a special education teacher or guidance counselor recommend to the student that she consider another career choice than the one the student wants to pursue? This should not happen. Computer science is a great profession for blind people and they should not be discouraged from pursuing it at an early age. (For profiles of blind individuals – and other individuals with disabilities – who have pursued computing visit the Choose Computing website.)

The goal of AccessCS10K is to help make it possible for all students with disabilities who are intellectually capable of learning computer science to have the opportunity to do so. The project is specifically focusing on the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course and the Computer Science Principles (CSP) course, both of which are being supported by the National Science Foundation’s CS 10K initiative.

AccessCS10K has two objectives to reach its goal:

  • Build the capacity of ECS and CSP teachers to serve students with disabilities through professional development training and individualized real-time support.
  • Create accessible materials that ECS and CSP teachers can use in their classrooms, both tools and curricular units.

To build the capacity of teachers, AccessCS10K is partnering with as many of the CS 10K projects as possible to help them include information in their professional development about inclusive teaching strategies and accessible tools and curricula that can be used in the classroom. AccessCS10K holds capacity building institutes for the leaders of these projects as one way to help them integrate this information in their professional development. It maintains a community of practice whereby teachers can share resources among each other.   It maintains a searchable knowledgebase of articles that can help teachers find information they need to solve problems. Finally, it provides real-time support for teachers who have specific questions about how to integrate a student with a disability in their computing class. To get support call 509-328-9331 or e-mail

AccessCS10K is building accessible tools and curricula that can be used in ECS and CSP courses. One major tool is the Quorum language which is an easy to learn text-based programming language that can be used for both visual and non-visual projects. AccessCS10K’s development partners are working to make other accessible tools and curricula, not only for the programming components of these courses but for the other components as well.

In an upcoming blog post we will present an introduction to Quorum. If you are curious about Quorum we encourage you to visit the Quorum web site or to try the Quorum Hour of Code

AccessCS10K is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Computing Education for the 21st Century program of the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (Grant #CNS1440843). AccessCS10k is a collaborative project between the University of Washington and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

One thought on “AccessCS10K: helping make high school computing courses more accessible and welcoming to students with disabilities

  1. Great to know that consideration is being given to the needs of disabled students wishing to study computer science. Eagerly awaiting more good news!

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