Americas Mar 20, 2017
Microsoft’s Research division has introduced Project Torino, a unique physical programming language meant to help children with vision disabilities learn to code.
The system is designed to make sure that kids who have vision disabilities can participate in coding classes along with all their classmates. But Cecily Morrison, one of the researchers working on the project, is hoping the system also will be appealing and useful for all learners, regardless of whether they have vision disabilities.
“One of our key design principles was inclusion. We didn’t want to isolate these kids again,” she said. “The idea was to create something that a whole mainstream class could use, and they could use together.”
The ultimate goal is even more ambitious: To get more kids with vision disabilities, such as dyslexia or autism, on the path to becoming software engineers and computer scientists.
The researchers behind Torino insist that development was a group effort with the children, noting that “We thought we were going to be doing something for them but we ended up designing with them.”
Researchers hope that such initiatives can help bridge the “digital skills gap” that plague technology companies and leave them with insufficient engineers and programmers to meet their coding requirements.
“It’s clear that there’s a huge opportunity in professional computing jobs,” Morrison said. “This is a great career for a lot of kids who might have difficulty accessing other careers.”
The system also is designed to grow with kids. Once they have mastered the physical programming language, Morrison said they also have created an app that allows kids to transfer the coding they have done with the physical system into text-based code, and then use other assistive technologies to continue coding.
“We’re mapping a pathway from the physical to something that a professional software engineer could use,” she said.