For several years, Carnegie Mellon’s Women@SCS (School of Computer Science) has hosted a series of computing-related informal learning events and activities for local children. They successfully extended this outreach program to students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD). Activities included interactive roadshow presentations to children and teachers, weekly technology skills sessions called TechNights, tours of Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) computing-related departments, and a one-day workshop. Participants gained an awareness of the breadth of computing applications and skills related to computing technology.

Participants and Location

CMU faculty and staff engaged with teachers from WPSD to recruit the participants. Twelve WPSD students who are deaf, including ten middle school students and two high school students, joined the TechNight programs on the CMU campus. The existing TechNights audience consisted of many hearing middle-school girls. The outreach roadshows at the WPSD drew an audience of 50 middle and high school students who are deaf.

Two CMU faculty and staff members plus one WPSD faculty member were involved in the project. In addition, two sign language interpreters were employed. Approximately 20 undergraduate and graduate student volunteers from CMU and one adult volunteer from WPSD helped as well. The student volunteers were already participants in CMU’s Women@SCS program.

Activities took place at WPSD, a CMU classroom, and at tour destinations.

Activities and Logistics

  1. Roadshows:

    During the Outreach Roadshow, four Carnegie Mellon students gave a 40-minute presentation about computer science that included interactive activities. Activities included the following:

    • Guessing which individuals are computer scientists from a series of images.
    • Getting the WPSD students up on their feet to work out an algorithm-type problem.
    • Giving instructions to make a peanut butter sandwich in order to demonstrate the detail needed in programming instructions.
    • Learning about many applications of computer science.
    • Observing a demonstration of a robot dog.

    The WPSD students also went on two tours of CMU computing facilities. One tour was of the Entertainment Technology Center where student and faculty technologists and artists design computer games, animation, and computer-generated entertainment. On the second tour students visited robotics labs in the Robotics Institute.

    One Roadshow was given specifically for 60 high school boys and girls at WPSD to introduce them to computer science and to advertise the one-day GameMaker workshop.

  2. TechNights

    Creative Technology Nights (TechNights) for girls is a CMU program focused on exposing middle school girls to creative computing technologies. Using computer animation, web design, programming, robotics, and interactive medias, the program engages a future generation of women in technology. WPSD students joined other girls in a variety of hands-on technology related activities. These included building Lego Mindstorms and learning to program them, “smashing computers” in which students took computers apart and learned the inside parts of computers, making “circuits” and many more activities. Photos from some of the activities are available online.

  3. One Day GameMaker Workshop

    Eleven high school students from WPSD, and two deaf students from other schools, attended this one-day workshop based on the theme of making an online game with deaf and hard of hearing players in mind. Students learned the basics of making a game using GameMaker software and developed marketing strategies, determining the best way to promote their product. Upon completion of the workshop, students demonstrated their projects and discussed how computer science applications and new technologies can be created by, and benefit, the deaf and hard-of-hearing population.


Some of the expenses for these activities, funded by an AccessComputing minigrant, included

  • Salary for student assistants ($200) and interpreters ($990)
  • Transportation from the WPSD to CMU ($1500)
  • Refreshments ($250)
  • Game time at CyberConxion ($150)
  • Lego Mindstorm kits, batteries, and cardboard blocks for mazes ($750)
  • GameMaker: travel and hotel for Gallaudet University Faculty Professor Karen Alkoby and two students, interpreters, supplies, and food ($2700)

AccessComputing, the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers, serves to increase the participation of people with disabilities in computing fields. AccessComputing partners with more than thirty postsecondary institutions and other organizations to apply evidence-based practices to (1) help students with disabilities successfully pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees and careers in computing fields and (2) increase the capacity of postsecondary computing departments to fully include students with disabilities in computing courses and programs.


Organizers at CMU reported that WPSD students were very responsive to the activities and clearly enjoyed making the robots and learning how to control the robots’ movements. The WPSD students returned for each TechNight session during the year – demonstrating how this program sparked their interest. Their level of participation was greater than initially anticipated by the organizers. It is assumed that the more sessions students attend, the greater their knowledge of the possibilities of in computer science careers.

The middle school hearing girls benefited as well. Having worked and played alongside girls who are deaf or hard of hearing, it is expected that these girls gained positive attitudes with respect to engaging people with disabilities.

Teachers from WPSD were committed to making the program work. One teacher in particular accompanied the children on all occasions ensuring safe travel by school bus, that interpreters were present, and that parents picked up children at the correct time. Another indication of WPSD’s commitment and encouragement was when the WPSD school principal visited TechNights to see the girls in action.

CMU students benefited by having the opportunity to teach and present in the areas they study. They enjoyed teaching the WPSD students and learning how to communicate with them. For most of them this was their first experience with children who are deaf or have limited-hearing. CMU students and staff benefited by gaining valuable experience in working with children with disabilities and beginning to learn about Deaf culture and sign language. As reported by one staff member, “We’ve learned a lot about including hard of hearing children and I think we’ll get better – but it was not as difficult as we had anticipated. Children with hearing difficulties are children first - they happen to have some special needs but these can be worked out.”

Staff reported, “We worked to combine hearing and WPSD students in the same groups this year and are learning how to do that successfully. The WPSD students teach the hearing people some sign language each week and that has been really fun and interesting. If the WPSD students continue to attend, maybe communication between deaf and hearing students will increase. We already see some communication through lip reading and invented gestures by the hearing students to communicate.”

Project staff found that different activities require different numbers of interpreters. When deaf and hearing students are combined in working groups, an interpreter for each group is ideal. In addition, the room and presentation must be arranged so that the WPSD students can see the interpreters at all times. It is also important for leaders of sessions to speak slowly and clearly for the interpreters.

For more information about TechNights and a video that shows some of the deaf students participating, visit the TechNights website

Lessons Learned

For individuals who wish to conduct a similar activity for participants who are deaf or hard of hearing, project organizers suggest the following:

  • Consider partnering with a school or community group that works with students who are deaf and hard of hearing. They can help to recruit student participants.
  • Think carefully about interpreters. Be sure that you have sufficient interpreters to allow for both presentations and group work. If your event includes meals and social times, be sure to have enough interpreters to cover these as well.
  • Ask if different types of interpretation is needed. Some students, for example, may use real-time captioning.
  • Consider planning activities that include both students who are deaf or hard of hearing and students who are hearing in order to increase awareness of including students with disabilities.
  • Most importantly, consult teachers from your partner schools and people within the deaf community for feedback on your plans.


The following resources may be useful to those who wish to sponsor computing-related activities for students who are deaf or hard of hearing: