About Project ACE: Accessible Computing Education for Visually Impaired Students

Projecct Summary:
Recently, the numbers of students pursuing undergraduate computing degrees has declined. Computing professionals will continue to be in demand. The majority of computing students remain that of white males. Maintaining innovation requires participation from groups that are traditionally underrepresented. While innovations have resulted in assistive technology for the disabled, gaps remain in the level of participation by the visually impaired in university-level computing degree programs.

Despite advances in assistive technologies, relatively few visually impaired students participate in university-level computing courses. Significant factors in this under representation include lack of relevant precollege preparation, lack of role models, access to resources, and the highly visual nature of modern computing. The visually based notations, tools and user interfaces have lead to visually intensive instruction, which becomes difficult for students with visual impairments to follow in the traditional classroom setting.

The Rochester Institute of Technology has undertaken a project to develop Project ACE: Accessible Education for visually impaired students and middle/high school teachers. Project ACE strives to increase the participation by students with visual impairments through better preparation and support for students, and teachers. The goal is to increase the academic and career success within the area of computing for students with visual impairments at the post-secondary level.

This project focuses on exploring effective mechanisms that ultimately will increase the participation of students with visual impairments in computing through the development of accessible class materials, resources, student and educator outreach. The outreach during the 2009-2010 (starting in Summer 2009) consists of a summer workshop (titled ImagineIT) and both Fall and Spring activities that will build on the summer workshop. ImagineIT uses theme-based activities for students that encourage exploration in networking, programming, and robotics. The Fall and Spring activities will each be over a weekend and will build on the robotics and programming skills acquired during the workshop.

The workshop activities will provide a foundation for teacher workshops in accessible lesson development. In addition, online resources will be expanded to provide students and education access to tutorials, tools, and discussion to bring together industry practitioners, educators, and students to promote the exploration of issues and successes regarding participation in computing by the visually impaired.

This novel, multifaceted approach to student and educator preparation will enable the visually impaired to have greater opportunity to explore the diversity of computing through resources that foster continuous learning and community to assist in the transition to college degrees in computing. The project components are designed to promote growth by all participants, including parents. Assessment will provide much needed statistical analysis of both the challenges and successes of students who are visually impaired.

The Project Investigators are: Dr. Stephanie Ludi and Tom Reichlmayr

The Summer workshops and Fall/Spring activities are being conducted at: Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY and in San Diego, CA.

Projecct ACE is funded by NSF as part of the Broadening Participation in Computing program, Award #0634319, 0837493.

ImagineIT, part of the Accessible Computing Education Project, is funded by the National Science Foundation.

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