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Slide 1 - Computing & Blindness in Education (COMBINE) Project ( > Publications to dowload > Arts education) Simon Hayhoe Leicester Grammar School, UK January 2009
Slide 2 - Introduction
Slide 3 - The Context of the Study “Blind programmers could compete quite nicely in the IT workplace when the mainframe was king. But today, as graphically oriented Windows tool kits displace the text-based mainframe development, blind programmers are facing an uncertain future.” Steve Alexander, Blind Programmers Face an Uncertain Future, ComputerWorld, November 6th 1998
Slide 4 - The Context of the Study Literature gives first-hand accounts of successful programmers who have become blind later in life and continued programming (Kotian 2008, Filpus 2008) Little context given to older people who were educated in older schools for the blind (pre-1981) and became programmers in later life No context seems to be given to the experiences of different cultural life experiences of people who are blind and visually impaired
Slide 5 - Previous Perceptual Studies of Blindness and Computing Literature identifies methods of adapting programming languages and teaching methods for blind programmers (Siegfried 2002, Gildea 1970, Vaspori & Arato1994, Riccobono 2004, ) There have been some evaluations of individual pieces of software, used to overcome assumed difficulties in using GUIs, and visually based tests for programmers (Bax 1982, Siegfried 2006, Franqueiro & Siegfried 2006) No psychological studies have been conducted into non-visual programming of 2D visual computing concepts, such as Windows Icons Menus and Pointers (WIMPs) used in Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), or the creative process of programmers who are blind
Slide 6 - Previous Studies of Blindness and 2D Art Previous psychological studies of 2D perception and drawing by people who are totally blind from birth (Kennedy1983, 1993, 1997, Kennedy & Merkas 2000) show that blind people can understand visual concepts in design and art. However, these same principles do not appear to have been applied to computer interfaces Previous cultural and philosophical studies (Hayhoe 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008a, 2008b) also show that cultural beliefs have restricted the education of blind students, and reinforced the social myth that blind people are incapable of perceiving 2D images or artistic perception Is this cultural model applicable to computing and blindness? This study employed the cultural approach it had previously applied to students learning art
Slide 7 - The Cultural History of Attitudes to Blindness (Hayhoe 2008a) Shows that external factors affect the history and epistemology of blindness: Religious morality Political expedience Economics, and particularly the need to save or produce capital
Slide 8 - Culture & Learning in Schools & Universities (Hayhoe 2008b) Shows how attitudes towards blindness affected learning: Blind students physically capable of conducting complex art tasks Blind students were more influenced by their beliefs than their non-visual perception
Slide 9 - Development of COMBINE COMBINE (Computing and Blindness in Education) was set up to survey English speaking programmers who are registered blind, and examine their creative understanding of traditionally visual elements of computing Set in two stages: First stage: Case studies of experienced computer programmers Second Stage: Interviews with Computing & ICT teachers in schools for the blind, mainstream teachers of blind students and lecturers working with blind students
Slide 10 - Aims The aim of this research is to produce a number of case studies that describe non-visual computer programming: to help us understand the teaching of IT and Computing to students who are blind and visually impaired to inform future interface design
Slide 11 - Objectives The objective of this research is to inform a greater understanding of how the mind: understands creating computer programs understands two-dimensional interfaces / images used in the design of computer programs and web-pages This will ultimately inform better designed visual as well as “non-visual” interfaces and more effective computing methodologies
Slide 12 - The Structure of the Study
Slide 13 - Foci of COMBINE What problems are encountered in non-visual programming? How do blind programmers conceptualise programs? How do blind programmers design computer interfaces that can be used by both blind and sighted users, particularly those with Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs)? Are programmers who are born blind or become blind early in their life different from programmers who have become blind later in their life? What do blind programmers understand by visual program concepts, such as: Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers (WIMPS)? the concept of a two-dimensional interface, such as a form? resizing Windows and objects on a form?
Slide 14 - Categories of Memory to be Studied No Visual Memory (NVM): Blind from birth Very early blind, from infancy, 0-4 years Assimilated Blindness (AB): Blind from mid to late childhood, 4-18 years, educated in schools for blind, primarily non-visual Visual Memory (VM): Blind in adulthood, 18+ years N.B. based on the findings of Lowenfeld (1981), Hayhoe (1995, 2000, 2005)
Slide 15 - Classifications of Blindness to be Studied Total Blindness (TB) no light perception Minimal Light Perception (MLP) some light perception, but little enough to be usable Distorted Vision (DV) light perception, but highly distorted and registered blind, e.g. achromatism, photophobia, tunnel vision, no central vision N.B. based on the definitions of Hayhoe (1995, 2000, 2005), & Coakes & Holmes Sellors (1992)
Slide 16 - Data Collection Methodology The fieldwork is being conducted in two phases: Phase one, featured in this report; this consisted of collecting initial e-questionnaires from a number of programmers who are legally registered blind in their own countries, and later interviewing them Phase two of the fieldwork is to be verbal interviews and/or questionnaire interviews – depending on the preferences of the subjects - with computing and ICT teachers in schools for the blind, or computing/ICT teachers of students who are registered blind in mainstream education.
Slide 17 - Phase One Methodology All of the programmers are registered blind in their own country The first part of the study was conducted through extended questionnaires – this was initially to be the pilot study alone, but produced data that could also be used in the case studies This element of the study was set to establish foci for the extended interviews This phase was to identify programmers and web developers interested in participating in the research This phase also established a rough profile of programmers who are registered blind This phase was also to determine first principles of non-visual programming
Slide 18 - Data Collection Process The research employed Informed Consent (De Laine 2000) This involved describing the aims and objectives, and the methods employed in the research, to the programmers involved in the interviews The identity of the programmers was kept anonymous Questionnaires used open question methods (Lincoln & Denzin 1994, Griffin 1985) eliciting protracted responses Programmers were encouraged to give examples of their difficulties and techniques, and also gave examples of their codes and interfaces
Slide 19 - Problems Encountered with the Methods Only a small number of programmers are legally registered blind Identifying programmers, and requesting time from busy professionals, was difficult as they were specialists distributed internationally There are national differences between diagnoses and legal definitions of blindness A small number of unique, high-profile subjects may not remain anonymous There was a little time available to conduct research, and the tight timescale There is ambiguity in language used in computing and psychology, and in the different types of language used by programmers – each had different backgrounds and fields of programming
Slide 20 - Overcoming the Methodological Problems It was decided to conduct in-depth case studies to overcome the problem of lack of programmers I left a longer lag time for retrieving interviews, and conducted only weekend interviews Eventually, only the British case studies were analysed in the first phase in order to maximise comparability Anonymity was strengthened by not using company or website information The original timetable of research was extended, and fieldwork was conducted at weekends My questionnaire used general language where-ever possible, and tried not to refer to program or product codes or names
Slide 21 - Case Studies
Slide 22 - Summaries of Programmers’ Profiles
Slide 23 - Case Study 1 Very early, completely blind, 45 year old British man, who attended schools for the blind and then higher education Learnt programming in his last years of school through Braille tape applications. “We used a small corner of a computer owned by a company called Metal Box - don't know what sort. Basic was the language. It was a wonderful experience. We just used text editors, and ran what we wrote through a Basic interpreter - I don't think it was compiled.” Considers himself to be of a blind culture - language and technology is that of blind users, knows a number of other blind people In his earlier programming, he used a teleprinter, and interpreted windows through “teleprinter and BD3 [a Braille paper tape printer for output], next was a teletypewriter and asking someone to read the print out”
Slide 24 - Case Study 1 Has relied on Braille applications for using his interfaces “The first was a "window manager" to control the movement between individual connections to mainframes, on which I mostly programmed or ran applications or used text editors. Each "window" was like a screen of characters--lines of 80 or 132 and 24 or more lines. The second was to a PC through JAWS to run more admin type stuff and access the Internet and Intranet.” He does not use, or attempt to use, GUIs in his programming – he actively avoids them “I'm not sure that I have ever met one” Mostly uses problem solving methods, working through lines of text – holds logical problems in his mind “My main work… is problem solving, so it is more along the lines of tearing programs up while still trying to keep them reproducing a problem.” Accesses the web using a text reader. It was not (and is not) an enjoyable experience “At work, about 10 years ago, [I accessed them] with a PC using JAWS. Oh, it was horrible - still not a lot better.”
Slide 25 - Case Study 2 Completely blind, 57 year old British man. Residual vision until 14 years old. He attended schools for the blind and then university Considers himself to be of a blind culture, through language, technology applications He began learning to program at university in 1972. His early programs were written in Assembly Language “My first computer program was written at university 1972. The experience was quite interesting and had all the usual frustrations of surmounting the operating system before getting down to the logic (or otherwise) of the program. I used a Teletype and had sighted people reading for me” Used Teletype and Braille readers and writers, keyboard and audio interfaces to work through code and as an interface for everyday use. Now uses JAWS. “I currently use JAWS with Braille and speech. I have used Teletype / Optacon, I briefly used the Clarke and Smith Braille Link, which I rejected. The TSI VersaBraille, then IB80 Braille display.“
Slide 26 - Case Study 2 First accessed the web and email over twelve years ago using JAWs [a text reading program read through keystrokes] and Braille applications “I was connected to the Internet whilst working for Marconi in 1996, though I didn’t actively access the Web until 2000, when I established my own computer at home” Writes webpages with raw code. Will not work with visual languages “I was one of few who insisted on sticking to Assembly languages before giving up programming in the early 1990’s” “Yes, I write web pages, in basic HTML. As I’ve already said, I’m an information provider, not a web techie. I don’t do Java and visualise the information I’m presenting. The structure of the information informs the structure of the page. Nothing else makes sense to me” Particularly relies on structure and disciplined methods when scripting webpages “I don’t impose style or other limitations, leaving users to present our information in a way that best suits them. By providing concise, structured text, we achieve a high level of accessibility and usability for the vast majority of readers”
Slide 27 - Case Study 3 Late blind, 50 year old British man, still with a small amount of distorted sight. He attended mainstream schools and then higher education. Became blind in his late 30s Still considers himself not to be culturally blind, either through language or his use of technology. Does not know many other blind people Learnt programming visually through a school computer club aged 14, in the early 1970s, using Fortran. Keen maths teacher enthused him. He had access to a local mainframe with which to experience programming throughout his school career “The maths teacher at school was keen on computers and we had a “computer club” where we learnt Fortran, punched cards, sent them to be processed at County Hall, and received the printed output next week.” In his earlier programming, he used a text based systems, then moved on to a combination of text and GUI. Now he continues to use a combination of text and GUI
Slide 28 - Case Study 3 Does not use elements of GUIs that he cannot use, such as Flash “I design web pages and can see the interface. However, I disregard elements I cannot use myself such as Flash – I like things to be very plain and simple.” There was no mention of a use of Braille in his interview Actively uses database languages, such as PHP and SQL to develop an on-line library interface “Perl 5.8 and SQL, together with DOS commands for server-side work, with HTML and PHP 5 on the Web. Currently providing an e-Library of electronic texts via the Web, and trying to automate this as much as possible eg wrote a program that accepts input from a bar-code reader (ISBN number), verifies it, and gets book metadata off Internet site and updates database.” Accesses websites using GUI interfaces – although prefers to keep these interfaces visually simple. Surfs the internet using an adapted standard browser “I’ve used Lynx (A DOS TEXT BASED BROWSER) BUT USUALLY USE Internet Explorer for day to day Internet work. (sic.)”
Slide 29 - Case Study 4 Late completely blind, 33 year old British woman. She attended mainstream schools, higher education and is now a part-time postgraduate studying computer science. She became blind at 26 years old Still considers herself not culturally blind, either through language or her use of technology. Does not know many other blind people. She does not use Braille. Learnt programming using her father’s computer before the age of 10, using a text (command) based system. She began by copying programmes from magazines In earliest programming experiences she used text only, then used standard GUI systems. She cannot imagine the XP interface, which was released after she became blind. She accesses this system using JAWs “I rely entirely on the keyboard to interact with the screen reader and/or OS. For the most part it is an approach I’m capable of and comfortable with. There are inevitable frustrations, but these are born from other people’s inability to develop software that will support my goals, rather than my inability to do so with the right tools and skills”
Slide 30 - Case Study 4 She develops websites and programs using web based languages such as Java, HTML, XML and PHP “I can write XML, XHTML/HTML, CSS, Java and a little PHP. I have my own website (, which is XHTML/CSS/PHP based. I’m just starting to develop a web application in Java, which is to be a recipe archive site. I’m also studying Computer Science with the Open University, majoring in software development with a focus on Java” She can imagine GUIs as she programs them for others, in particular the visual metaphors, such as 2D buttons, and allows users to adjust visual settings, such as background colour, on websites “I do code web pages and have done so since before I lost my sight. I have a very good visual recollection of a typical browser interface. Internet Explorer is particularly clear and although Mozilla and Firefox hadn’t come into being when I lost my sight, they follow very similar visual parameters” Although Java applets are inaccessible using Jaws, she can imagine their visual appearance as she develops them “I also know enough about current development techniques for accessible Flash to be aware of how it works in the present. Applets I don’t have a visual recollection of, but I’ve coded them from time to time during my current studies. Applets are more or less completely inaccessible with a screen reader, but from a development perspective I know their capacity and capability”
Slide 31 - Case Study 5 Very early blind with no usable vision, 26 year old British man, who attended mainstream schools and then higher education “I’ve had no useful vision all my life.” He was given access to computer applications from primary schools, and was used to all forms of application “My first experience of a computer was a BBC at primary school. It was mostly used to teach typing and Braille. It had a very old external speech synthesiser. I was 8 or 9 and it was a good experience. Generally it was mostly educational software used” Learnt programming in his last year of school taking a GNVQ in Computing, using Pascal. He used command prompts, audio interfaces and later screen readers “My first real introduction to a proper programming language was at college. I was 17 and studying for a GNVQ in computing. One of the modules was programming in Pascal. Before this I’d done a bit of dos batch script programming but when I first got the hang of Pascal I found something just clicked and I’ve been in to programming ever since. We used a dos IDE called turbo Pascal. This was using a dos screen reader called hal. I wrote all sorts of applications with very simple GUIs”
Slide 32 - Case Study 5 He mainly uses screen readers to translate GUIs, including: “buttons, menus, menu bars, tool bars, scroll bars, icons, balloons, tool tips, edit controls, list and combo boxes to name a few” “screen readers I use have the ability to simulate mouse movement and control from keyboard; and this is normally the last resort to try to access inaccessible applications” Uses code indentation and code layout techniques whilst programming for clarity “I can tell you that I use code indentation and code layout techniques and have never had a problem getting any of my interfaces I’ve put together past our MMI people. (Well no more than any of the people I work with)” Accesses the web using a screen reader “As everything now uses a GUI of some kind it is impossible to use a computer without encountering the complexity of the GUI”
Slide 33 - Initial Findings: Early Blind (Pre-1981) These programmers largely rejected the use of GUIs, and remained with outdated programming interfaces even when they had some early residual visual memory Even when they accessed GUIs, they referred to them as non graphical interfaces, and were disparaging about the idea that they were graphical Preferred to design using purely text based languages, even when they knew they were outdated Preferred designing solely text based interfaces even for sighted users Related to Braille text when programming, and considered themselves culturally blind Relied on a strong memory of words and numbers Coding is very disciplined, and relies on a rigid structure and system in the presentation of its language
Slide 34 - Initial Findings:Late Blind Late blind programmers were more willing to design GUIs for sighted users, and had a strong and clear re-collection of previous GUI interfaces. They could also imagine new GUIs designed after they had lost their sight Late blind programmers did not refer to the use of Braille in their understanding of language, and still preferred to use mainstream courses adapted to their needs Although late blind programmers used JAWS, they appeared to refer to visual references whilst reading the text on screen through key strokes, and referred to the interfaces they were reading as GUIs They felt it important to design GUIs for sighted users
Slide 35 - Initial Findings:Early Blind (Post 1981) This programmer was very comfortable using what he knew were graphical interfaces, eventhough he relied wholly on screen readers as interfaces His comfort with GUI software was perhaps due to his age, and early familiarity with this software This programmer still imagined his use of interfaces using visual references, but only as relatively abstract concepts – as objects to be navigated using his screen reader Despite never having had real usable vision, he would feel happy referring to GUIs in his program design, and would make every effort to incorporate them in his interfaces using separate software He felt the need to design for both blind and sighted users
Slide 36 - Conclusion
Slide 37 - Conclusions In these case studies, the need to use GUIs and design interfaces with elements of GUIs was not largely based on degree of blindness It is certainly easier to use and design GUIs when there has previously been visual memory, even when the elements of the GUIs were released after the programmer became blind The early blind programmer educated in mainstream education was more similar to the behaviour of the later blind programmers, showing that education had a greater affect than blindness on the ability of blind people to use and program GUIs There is evidence that being a member of a blind culture is largely generational and due to education There is evidence that culture and /or education was more important than perceptual factors of blindness
Slide 38 - Questions to Explore in the Second Phase Is there further evidence for cultural as well as psychological difference between students learning computing in contemporary schools for the blind? What are the limits to the use of metaphors between sight and non-visual perception for those who have never seen before? Is it usual for programmers with visual memory to reject the use of Braille? What motivates students who are blind to program computers? Are programmers who are blind more reliant on systems and discipline when learning to develop programs?
Slide 39 - Bibliography Bax D.D. (July 1982) Computer Programmer Aptitude Test for the Totally Blind. Journal of Rehabilitation 48/3/--- Coakes, R. L., & Holmes, Sellors P. J. (1992). An outline of ophthalmology. London: Butterworth-Heinemann. De Laine M. (2000) Fieldwork, participation and practice: Ethics and dilemmas in qualitative research. London: Sage. Filpus P. (2008) Computer Programmer and Analyst. Downloaded from, December 2008) Franqueiro K.G. & Siegfried R.M. (October 2006) Designing a Scripting Language to Help the Blind Program Visually. Proceedings of the 8th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, October 23-25 2006, Portland, Oregon. Gildea R.A.J. (November 1970) Guidelines For Training Blind Computer Programmers. New Outlook for the Blind 64/9/297-300 Griffin C. (1985) Qualitative methods and cultural analysis: Young women and the transition from school to un/employment, in (Burgess R Ed.) Field methods in the study of education. London: Falmer Press Hayhoe S. (1995) The art education of blind adults. Thesis presented in support of the degree of MEd by research, Leicester University, British Isles. Hayhoe S. (2000) The effects of late arts education on adults with early visual disabilities. Educational Research & Evaluation 6/3/229-249
Slide 40 - Bibliography Hayhoe S (2002) The Experience of Children with Visual Impairments in Visual Arts Education. Paper presented at the International Conference on the Politics of Childhood, Hull University, 10th September 2002 Hayhoe, S. (2003). The Development of the Research of the Psychology of Visual Impairment in the Visual Arts, In E. Axel & N. Levent (Eds.), Art beyond sight. New York: The American Foundation for the Blind & Art Education for the Blind. Hayhoe S. (2005). An examination of social and cultural factors affecting art education in English schools for the blind. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Birmingham University, England Hayhoe, S (2008) God, Money & Politics: English Attitudes to Blindness and Touch, from Enlightenment to Integration. North Carolina: Information Age Publishing Hayhoe, S (2008) Arts, Culture and Blindness: Studies of blind students in the visual arts. New York State: Teneo Press Hayhoe S & Rajab A (2000) Ethical considerations of conducting ethnographic research in visually impaired communities. Paper presented at The European Conference on Educational Research 2000, Edinburgh University, September 2000 Kennedy J.M. (1983) What Can We Learn About Pictures from the Blind? American Scientist 71/19-26 Kennedy J. (1993) Drawing and the Blind. New Haven: Yale University Press Kennedy J. M. (1997) How the blind draw. Scientific American, 276/1/60-65 Kennedy J.M. & Merkas C. (2000) Depictions of motion devised by a blind person. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 7/700-706
Slide 41 - Bibliography Lincoln Y.S. & Denzin N.K. (1994) Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage. Lowenfeld B. (1981b) Effects of blindness on the cognitive functioning of children. In Berthold Lowenfeld on blindness and blind people: Selected papers. New York: American Federation for the Blind Kotian H.P. (2008) India’s First Blind Computer Programmer. Downloaded from, December 2008) Riccobono M.A. (February 2004) A Brighter Future for Blind Children. Braille Monitor Siegfried R.M. (March 2006) Visual Programming and the Blind. ACM CIGCSE Buletin 38/1/275-278 Siegfried R.M. (February 2002) A Scripting Language to Help the Blind Program Visually. ACM SIGPLAN Notices 37/2 Vaspori T. & Arato A. (1994) Ten Years of Computer Use by Visually Impaired People in Hungary. Information Technology & Disabilities 1/3/---