In 2011-2012 three departments of Illinois State University, the Special Education Assistive Technology Center, Classroom Technology Support Services, and Metcalf University Lab School seized an opportunity to unite in a project which advanced research on better accommodations for students with visual impairments.

Working with a total of twelve students ages 8-13 years old, the project partners created four Design Teams, composed of middle school girls, pre-service teachers, teachers, and students with low vision and blindness. The Teams were asked to solve a problem: the inherent lack of accessibility to interactive whiteboard technology experienced by students with low vision and blindness. The students with low vision and blindness on each Team described access challenges based their personal experiences, how it felt to have to depend on others to be engaged in activities that are fully accessible to their sighted peers, and the effects of access barriers on their learning. Their stories contributed to the motivation of their teammates to solve the problem. Not only did the students with visual impairments have insight into the problem, but they were also able to test proposed solutions.

As each group explored access issues and solutions to the stated problem, the Design Team members developed their problem-solving skills and their awareness of access issues and assistive technology, and other access strategies. Teams investigated both low and high tech solutions for the problem. Additionally, through reading a handout and engaging in discussions, the Design Teams learned about computer science careers. Discussions occurred concurrently with the practice of computer science. In short, Design Teams were provided with both the immediate practice of computer science and a conceptual framework for what a computer science career entails.

The solutions derived from the Design Teams were put into practice through application by teachers at Metcalf School and through dissemination at national conferences for education of students with visual impairments and professionals. In addition to providing resources and training, the publication “Ten Top Tips for Making the SMART Board Useful to Visually Impaired Students,”was distributed to Metcalf School teachers, information from this project was also shared with local school districts that serve students with visual impairments. Presentations were made at two national conferences, thus impacting teachers of students with visual impairments across the nation. Project personnel have also addressed the accessibility gap with SMART Board employees: sales staff, technicians, and researchers.

The SMARTer Board Project is a promising practice for the way it created an environment in which students with visual impairments were essential and equal members of a Design Team. The project exposed students to computer science and accessibility issues while they tackled, and solved, a real-world issue.

For more information on this project visit SMARTer Board: Girls Solve Visual Accessibility Issues.

This activity was been funded by a minigrant from The Computer Science Collaboration Project (CSCP). CSCP is partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Computer and Network Systems, Broadening Participation in Computing (CNS-0940646).