Image: CSforALL and AccessCSforALL logos joined with a + sign

Our Bold Call to Action — #CSforALL Must Include Students with Disabilities, and it Needs to Happen Now

By Daniela Marghitu, Maya Israel, Richard Ladner, Todd Lash, and Andreas Stefik

The CS education movement is well underway, and at times, the speed of adoption can be downright awe inspiring. However, in our urgency to serve millions of US students, as quickly as possible, many programs, tools and platforms have failed to address access for students with disabilities — leaving approximately 7.6M students with disabilities out of the ‘all’ in #CSforALL.

To right this wrong, and make sure that CSforALL is truly for all, CSforALL and AccessCSforALL are joining together to launch the CSforALL Accessibility Pledge to rally the national community of CS education content creators, program providers, educational institutions, researchers and investors to take immediate steps to achieve accessibility for existing efforts, and ensure that future efforts are ‘born accessible’ — addressing accessibility within the design phase.

Organizations ready to step up to this bold challenge are invited to take the CSforALL Accessibility Pledge and join a team of peers working to make sure #CSforALL is truly inclusive. Organizations that join prior to September 21, 2018 will be included in a live-streamed on-stage announcement at the CSforALL Summit on October 9, 2018.


Image: pencil erasing in from inaccessible. Source: AccessibiliT.com

#CSforALL Efforts Should be ‘Born Accessible’

Today, computer science (CS) is increasingly taught in K-12 education, in some cases by law (e.g., Arkansas, Nevada). This trend, which has become known as the Computer Science for All Movement, has been growing considerably over the last decade. The name itself, computer science for all, exemplifies the mission: to provide every student the chance to learn computing skills relevant to the 21st century.

While the meaning of phrases like “for all” are clear, the field is still a long stretch from this lofty ambition. Progress has been made toward including women, minorities, and other groups, but others, like students with disabilities, are often unable to participate. To understand what born accessible means, we need to understand why.

First, most major initiatives in K-12 computer science are not yet proactively designed to be accessible to students with disabilities. For example, the computer science community has worked diligently to help the College Board create Computer Science Principles, a course that is equity focused and engaging to high-school students new to computing. To our knowledge, however, none of the certified curricula are accessible to all people with disabilities. Second, while computer science education specialists, and companies, have also worked diligently to make computer science engaging for young students, nearly all commonly used products for young student learners are not accessible for students with all disability types (e.g., block-based coding platforms are often incompatible with screen readers). Similarly, curricula is often not universally designed for students with a wide range of cognitive, physical, or sensory needs. Only one state, Nevada, has included legislation explicitly calling out equity, requiring by law that men, women, minorities, and people with disabilities can participate. Hopefully other states will catch up over time with pressure and support from the community.

We see significant potential in an equitable computer science for all movement that is “born accessible,” meaning that from the beginning, any and all tools, curriculum, and programs can be used in their entirety by all students, including those with disabilities. For example, most modern computer scientists today would reasonably argue that gender or the color of one’s skin should never dictate whether a person can participate in computer science. We think the same applies for people with disabilities. Being born accessible means the designers of a curriculum or tool thought carefully about all people.

A born accessible Computer Science for All means thinking about women and minorities, but also about screen readers, closed captioning, remapping keys, magnification, Alt descriptions, WCAG, and other important ideas.

Given that these are early years in the Computer Science For All Movement, and we anticipate that nearly every child is going to take computer science, we must act now to build on what we have to make every initiative in K-12 computer science accessible as quickly as possible. We can think of this as responsibilities for various kinds of organizations/actors:

  1. Tool creators making software or programming products for students to learn should always test and adapt their technologies for students with disabilities. This includes at least having compatibility with screen readers (e.g. JAWS, NVDA), re-mappable keyboard support, and other basic accessibility features.
  2. Curriculum designers need to ensure that all curriculum for the web is compatible with WCAG and is ARIA compliant (which are standards for accessibility) and any computer science tool embedded into their curriculum should be accessible. Further, curricular materials, pedagogical approaches, and student-facing materials should be designed through the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, so that these curricula can proactively address common barriers to learning and ensure that all students can be meaningfully engaged in learning computer science.
  3. Teachers and informal educators should examine curriculum and tools to determine level of accessibility. If curricula, tools, or other aspects of a program are not accessible to all of your students, consider working with your organization to find alternatives that are. Educators can also consider ways of applying strategies that are effective in other content areas to their CS education curriculum.
  4. School districts are required by law to ensure materials are accessible to all students. If a vendor, tool creator, or curriculum is not accessible, advise your provider that they are not compliant and your district may have to find an alternative. Additionally, districts should be including special education teachers and staff in the process as they build out their CS education pathways, and administrators should review how structural considerations, such as scheduling, may limit students with disabilities from accessing a robust CS education.
  5. Researchers should consider disability as an underrepresented population in research project design and data collection.
  6. Corporations and foundations that invest in computer science education programs should include accessibility for students with disabilities as part of the funding criteria.

Learn more about making your #CSforALL program accessible at the AccessCSforALL project site and the living Accessibility Pledge Resources List (additions welcome).


Images L-R: Daniela Marghitu, Maya Israel, Richard Ladner, Todd Lash, Andreas Stefik

Daniela Marghitu, Maya Israel, Richard Ladner, Todd Lash, and Andreas Stefik are five of the eight members of the CSforALL Accessibility Pledge Advisory Committee and have been instrumental in developing this initiative.

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