An Inclusive Tool for Aspiring Young Computer Coders

Image shows a child standing in front of a whiteboard using the Code Jumper coding tool.

By American Printing House for the Blind

At APH, our credo is “welcome everyone.” And we mean it. That’s why we design products not only for people who are blind or visually impaired but for people of all abilities.

One excellent example is Code JumperTM, which takes computer coding off the screen and turns it into a tactile experience. First designed by Microsoft® and developed by APH, Code Jumper can be used by students starting at a young age. It’s made of colorful plastic pods with oversized buttons and knobs, and the pods are connected by thick cords, similar to computer cords, to create basic computer code.

“Code Jumper is fantastic for all kids,” says Robin Lowell, a former teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) who is now senior manager of Accessibility for insight2execution and designed the Code Jumper curriculum for teachers. “It’s universal design for learning – making sure there are no barriers, because we’re letting students engage in learning in the way that works for them.”

Some students are tactile learners, even if they’re not visually impaired. For example Lowell’s own young son and one of his friends aren’t visually impaired but love playing with Code Jumper. What’s more, Code Jumper was designed to be used in classrooms by teams of students of all abilities.

“We really wanted to take a design approach where it would be used inclusively in a classroom, regardless of level of vision,” says Cecily Morrison, Ph.D., MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire, for her work in inclusive design), principal researcher at Microsoft Research. “We harnessed the perspective of students who are visually impaired but worked to make it exciting for everyone.”

One student’s take on Code Jumper

So how do students feel about working with Code Jumper? Russell Hinderman, who will be in 8th grade in the 2021-22 school year and is blind, was already familiar with some coding concepts he learned on his Apple device with the help of VoiceOver, a built-in screen reader. Having used Code Jumper in the final semester of 7th grade because the curriculum for the rest of the class wasn’t accessible, he says his coding skills are “getting stronger every day.”

Russell is in a mainstream classroom, working with a TVI, and plans to talk with her about using Code Jumper with other students when he continues his tech class in 8th grade. “It sounds like a great idea,” he says.

But in the meantime, his mother, Heidi, says Russell was actually ahead of the rest of his 7th grade class in terms of the similar yet separate curricula they used – which may well increase Russell’s sense of inclusion and also level the playing field when he can perhaps show his classmates a thing or two.

“I love the word achievement,” Russell says. “And when I code and create something correctly, that’s a big achievement.”

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