Accessible Blockly as a Programming Platform for People with Visual Impairment
DescriptionOver the years as more people with visual impairment have shown interest in learning how to program, the need to create an accessible programming environment has risen. Block-based programming environments have been suggested as a suitable platform for people with visual impairment to learn how to code, as they are designed to make learning how to code easier and more engaging for novices. However, as beneficial as block-based programming environments are, because they rely on mouse drag-and-drop actions, they are often not accessible to visually impaired learners who depend on screen reader software to access information on the screen. This current lack of accessibility has excluded people with visual impairment participating in activities in the classroom, at work, or in informal settings where these environments are being used. Blockly is a popular open-source block-based programming environment designed by Google. Originally it was designed without accessibility features then an accessible version was later developed. However, the accessible version does not retain the format of using blocks but rather uses text. Our approach to making Blockly accessible focuses on preserving the current blocks drag-and-drop user interface. Our team has extended Blockly to support keyboard navigation, we replaced mouse actions with keyboard commands. Screen reader support has also been enabled using WAI-ARIA features and in some cases blocks are completely redesigned. Current and future work involve investigating how to leverage audio cues to improve accessibility and convey more information, and conducting large scale usability tests with both sighted and people with visual impairment.