May symposium to introduce blind students to coding and tech


From May 11 to 14, the National Coding Symposium will demonstrate that coding, programming and related careers are available and accessible to students with visual impairments.

Image: Shutterstock/ XiXinXing

Middle, high school and college students are no doubt aware of the potential lucrative careers they could have by learning to code as soon as possible. Even the youngest of students have opportunities to start a journey to code expertise. Unfortunately, what’s been easily accessible to sighted students has long been inaccessible to the vision impaired. Monday, the American Printing House for the Blind and the California School for the Blind announced the virtual 2021 National Coding Symposium which will take place Tuesday, May 11 to Friday, May 14. The event is co-sponsored by CareerConnect, part of the APH ConnectCenter, and from partial support from the Fox Family Foundation.

Executives from Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn and Google are among many who will speak during the NCS.

Jobs related to computer science are growing faster than any other industry and introductions to coding not only start early, but available through free courses and programs and certifications, and recently, government-sanctioned apprenticeship programs. NCS, organizers said in the announcement, will demonstrate to visually impaired students that the world of coding, programming and related careers are available and accessible to them. 

SEE: The best programming languages to learn–and the worst (TechRepublic Premium)

Despite this accelerated growth in CS-related jobs, the pool of potential candidates is decreasing, and despite the need, the number of students pursuing degrees and careers in CS has decreased. (One reason for the lack of university students choosing CS as an undergraduate degree may be that many have found success without a degree, including Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. It’s also a career that can be developed through apprenticeships, mentorships, non-university-related courses, and certificate programs.)

Coding in class and after-school clubs is  very common today, but as Monday’s announcement noted, “As coding is inherently accessible, the pattern of exclusion of students with visual impairments is unacceptable.” 

The goal of NCS is to motivate blind and low-vision middle-high school and college-age students to consider the possibility of a career in programming or a career where knowledge of code can open the doors to all sorts of related job opportunities.

“Through a series of inspirational speakers, panel discussions, informational lectures, and question and answer sessions, attendees will learn about the various pathways to careers related to coding,” said Adrian Amandi, director of the California Education Resource Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, California School for the Blind. “Programming might not be in everyone’s eventual career path, but it will certainly benefit the job seekers and leaders of tomorrow if everyone learns how to code.” 

The NCS will feature two daily keynote speakers, presentations and breakout panel sessions. Keynote speakers, presenters, and panelists come from a coding career background of programmers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, hiring managers, career center directors and counselors, university and high school instructors and more.  

Some confirmed speakers, presenters and panelists include: Laura Allen, head of strategy for accessibility and disability inclusion at Google; Jennison Asuncion, head of accessibility at LinkedIn; Michael Forzano, software development engineer II at Amazon; Sarah Herrlinger, senior director, global accessibility policy and initiatives at Apple; Dean Hudson, quality and assurance engineer at Apple; Jyotsna Kaki, accessibility testing program manager at Google; Josh Miele, principal accessibility researcher at Amazon Lab126; Saqib Shaikh, software engineering manager, project lead, seeing AI at Microsoft; Kisiah Timmons, principal product designer and Verizon Media and many others.

Registration for the NCS is free. Students are the targeted audience but the organizers said it can be useful for teachers and parents. Available award opportunities can be used toward the purchase of some technology products.

“We are excited to be a part of this really powerful way to connect kids with mentors in the field of Programming and Computer Science. This is a great way to introduce them to the many opportunities available in the technology field,” said Olaya Landa-Vialard, director of the ConnectCenter.

Information and registration for the 2021 National Coding Symposium

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