All too often computer programmers overlooked people with sight impairment when writing various desktop and mobile applications. Accessibility is either not anticipated or prioritized. At inABLE’s computer-labs-for-the-blind students are becoming agents of change by learning to become computer application developers in a JAVA programming class taking place at the December inABLE school-break computer camp.
This third inABLE vacation boot camp, with a focus on programming purely with JAVA, has been a remarkable opportunity for the class of 11 students from three inABLE partner schools (Thika, St Lucy and St Oda Schools for Blind). The students who enrolled comprised of four girls and seven boys, four totally blind and seven low vision pupils.
Students who had just finished developing their first calculator and testing its usability, had a well-time visit from a representative from Oracle Corporation. The Oracle guest engaged the promising computer programmers with JAVA-world questions and explanations.
The two-week JAVA class objective was to create a very basic text-based calculator that can run both on Android and desktop devices. Computer programs that have been used by the students include: JAVA language and Eclipse editor. Eclipse is a fully featured Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that is accessible by the screen readers.
There are a number of environment/platforms or programs/editor we could opt to use with JAVA. These include Netbeans and Sodbeans. As per accessibility is concerned, all versions of Netbeans are NOT accessible and can’t be used by the totally blind for programming. While Sodbeans is 80% accessible—it comes with its inbuilt screen reader when turned on— its configuration is not ideal. This leaves Eclipse, the best editor and platform for all JAVA programming that is accessible by both Non Visually Desktop Access (NVDA) and Job Access With Speech (NVDA) screen readers.
Recognizing that computer programming is a difficut subject for most every beginner student to grasp, the young upcoming visually impaired JAVA developers were faced with a number of challenges. For example, the JAVA language is totally different from the normally used English language. Also, the use of JAVA syntax and slangs is hard to understand at first.
The next JAVA class at a future vacation boot camp is to develop a simple accessible game and also the same calculator, but this time it will need to run on the iPad, iPhone or universal device. To accomplish this, we plan to use simple Object C programming and XCode editor. This exercise will give students computer-developing experience on both Android devices and Apple.