Programming Instant Messaging is a Slam! (AccessComputing News - Jan 2010)

Brian King, AccessComputing Staff

Youth Slam—an annual, week-long academy for students who have visual impairments—was held this summer at the University of Maryland. Youth Slam is sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind and its goal is to encourage students with visual impairments to seek out and explore careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Attendees participated in a number of activities over the course of the week and were mentored by adults with visual impairments.

As a part of the event, Dr. Richard Ladner led an introductory workshop to computer programming using instant messaging chatbots. A chatbot is a type of computer program used by many of the Internet-based instant messaging services. A total of fifteen students and five mentors, all with visual impairments, participated in the workshop. Participants built their own chatbots and presented them to the group at the conclusion of the workshop. The students also learned about computer science careers, interviewed three students and mentors who have visual impairments, and participated in a sorting activity using the Computer Science Unplugged curriculum. These educational tools helped students learn about the behind-the-scenes work involved in computer programming.

Responses to the workshop were overwhelmingly positive. One undergraduate student remarked, "It was the most important thing that I've ever done."