Washington, December 2 : The U.S. National Science Fioundation (NSF) is funding an initiative at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) that has been designed to help prepare visually impaired middle school and high school students participate in computer science programs at the collegiate level.
The objective behind Enter Project Accessible Computing Education (ACE) is to increase the number of visually impaired students pursuing degrees in computer science, and give them the foundations they need to be fully successful in their studies and beyond.
Stephanie Ludi, a professor of software engineering at RIT and the principal investigator for the project, says that encouraging such students will benefit every computer user in the long run.
"Because of the unique perspective they have, they can create software that is really more usable for everybody," Ludi said in an interview this month.
The project is focused on three areas: better preparation for visually impaired students before college, support for these students as they face challenges in computing that other students do not, and educating teachers in how to best help these students learn and achieve.
As a part of the project, an interactive workshop for visually impaired students and their parents was organised last year, called ImagineIT.
The four-day workshop brought together more than a dozen visually impaired students and their parents from around the country, and gave them an opportunity to tackle "real world" computing applications and learn about career opportunities in computing.
Held at RIT's B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, the workshop saw the students working collaboratively on a number of challenges, including building and programming Lego Mindstorm robots to interact with the environment by navigating through a maze to find a sound source.
Thomas Reichlmayr, also a professor of professors of software engineering at RIT and co-principal investigator on the project, said that the workshop was helpful for everyone.
"It was a good opportunity for the students, but also for their parents to network with other parents, to share experiences with their school districts and their own experiences as well," Reichlmayr said.
Apart from helping young programmers gain a better appreciation for computer science, Project ACE also used the experience as a foundation for future workshops centred on preparing teachers to work with these students.
Ludi says that Project ACE will repeat the ImagineIT workshop next year at RIT and also in Southern California.
Ludi has revealed that some of the students from the first ImagineIT workshop have already expressed interest in majoring in computer science.