Technology 2 min read

Microsoft Develops New Programming Language for the Blind

In its efforts to make technology more accessible and inclusive, Microsoft developed Code Jumper, a program to initiate blind children and those with low vision into coding.

Microsoft hopes to help visually impaired children learn coding with the help of their new physical programming language. | Image by Jonathan Banks

Microsoft hopes to help visually impaired children learn coding with the help of their new physical programming language. | Image by Jonathan Banks

In recent years, Microsoft has helped to develop solutions intended to help make technology more accessible to people with disabilities.

In 2016, Microsoft Garage released Color Binoculars, an app for colorblind people that helps them distinguish colors and get a clearer picture of their environment.

In May 2018, Microsoft’s Xbox announced the Adaptive Controller, a new controller designed for people with limited motor ability enjoy Xbox games.

Microsoft also has been working for years on an accessibility project that caters to the visually impaired.

Read More: 6 Ways Technology Closes the Ableism Gap

Code Jumper: Blind Kids can Code

Programming languages usually require vision to manipulate and to enter code or view the results. Naturally, this makes the process difficult for the visually disabled.

In 2017, Microsoft launched the Project Torino initiative that aims to create tools that allow kids with no or low vision to learn computational and programming skills.

In collaboration with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the Torino team conducted a beta experiment involving about 100 kids aged between 7 and 11 across the UK.

Microsoft describes Project Torino, now referred to as Code Jumper, as a “physical programming language”.

With Code Jumper, kids with mixed visual impairments connect physical blocks in the form of plastic pods together to construct a basic program.

Granted, the range of the commands these kids can possibly trigger using physical blocks is fairly limited.

But as a way to prompt their interest in computer science and learn basic computational thinking skills, Code Jumper is an amazing idea.

On January 22, Microsoft announced a partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) to produce Code Jumper kits and make them available to blind children across the world.

Microsoft said it “will transfer the technology and research behind this physical programming language to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) to make it easier to access by more students from Australia, Canada, the UK, India, and the US during 2019, targeting countries from all over the globe over the next five years.”

For interested teachers or parents, they can subscribe to Code Jumper’s mailing list so they get it once it’s available.

Are other Silicon Valley giants as invested in tech accessibility as Microsoft?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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