Richard Ladner, AccessComputing Co-PI and Co-Director

Youth Slam is a popular summer event hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. At Youth Slam, high school students with visual impairments are engaged in challenging activities designed to build confidence and increase science literacy. At the 2007 and 2009 Youth Slam events, teams from the University of Washington offered instant messaging (IM) chatbots as a computer science track topic, funded by an AccessComputing minigrant. An IM chatbot is a program that can send and receive instant messages from a human. For example, a weather chatbot might answer questions like "What is the weather in Seattle today?"

The five-day chatbot workshop provided each student with a computer workstation and accessibility software. Programming activities were interspersed with other computer science activities as well as interviews with blind and low-vision role models in the computing field.

Five to seven instructors, most of whom were computer science students, facilitated the workshop. The instructors engaged the students—answering questions, teaching, and giving ideas for specific chatbots that the students might be interested in creating. Students who used screen readers employed headphones so as not to disturb the class when the computer spoke to them. On the final day, each student demonstrated their chatbot to the entire group. Students learned that programming can be hard work, but they left with a sense of accomplishment and pride in their chatbots.