BBC micro:bit for Visually Impaired Learners

I have recently been working with visually impaired children and wanted to investigate how physical computing could be made accessible to them. I decided to focus on the BBC micro:bit at it is currently a popular choice of physical computing device in the UK. This post will give you an overview of the solution I came up with.

Many different programming languages are available to the BBC micro:bit, however I chose Python for two reasons:
  1. it is the most popular text-based programming language in UK schools
  2. the micro:bit implementation of Python has a basic speech synthesiser.
The solution I came up with uses Notepad++ in combination with uFlash. Notepad++ is an accessible and customisable text editor, that allows the user to define custom keyboard shortcuts and uFlash is a command-line tool that can be used to transfer a Python program onto a connected micro:bit. I created a custom configuration file for Notepad++ that transfers the current file onto the connected micro:bit using uFlash when the shortcut Alt+F1 is used. The setup guide below shows you how to configure your system in the same way.
microbit-for-VI-learners-setup-1 micro:bit for VI Learners – Setup
In order to hear the output from the micro:bit it needs to be connected to headphones, this can either be done using crocodile clips or by using a board such as the amp:bit. I recommend using the amp:bit, as the learner simply needs to slot their micro:bit in and plug in their headphones. So far I have developed four worksheets, which cover sequence, repetition and selection. The worksheets are included below:
Although this approach has a lot of potential, it is important to be aware of its limitations:
  1. it is hard to tell the level of indentation using a screen reader alone
  2. error messages are displayed on the micro:bit screen and not read out.

4 thoughts on “BBC micro:bit for Visually Impaired Learners

  • November 20, 2018 at 3:35 pm
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    This is very cool!

    I work at a school for visually impaired students in the Netherlands. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the microbit accessible, but haven’t had any succesful ideas yet.

    Thanks for the ideas, I will try them out in my class.

    Robert

    Reply
    • December 18, 2018 at 8:32 pm
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      Well spotted Ana, I have now fixed the link. There is a new version of the worksheet attached to the post.

      Many thanks,

      Alex

      Reply
  • April 22, 2019 at 1:27 pm
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    Very cool application of micro:bit for VI learners, Alex.

    Having led a number of summer camps for VI learners at the high school level (15-18 y.o.), I would have difficulty working through the LED-only error notification for new programmers. For the past three years, I’ve been using the Parallax BoeBot (https://www.parallax.com/product/81031) for this camp as the BASIC Stamp Editor (while yes, is programmed in BASIC) works with most screen readers, including JAWS, right out of the box. We looked at micro:bit, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi for these camps, but none worked with screen readers.

    Seeing what you’ve done with the micro:bit though, I’m thinking that would be a superb opportunity for year 2 students who have already begun programming on the BoeBot. And for that project, I’d introduce the students to the new cyber:bot, provided by Parallax also (https://www.parallax.com/product/32700) because of the robot platform that the micro:bit is mounted to and the ability to breadboard and bring in other sensors.

    As info, with the BoeBot, I have VI students use PING))) (https://www.parallax.com/product/28015) to create an assistive technology (AT) tape measure and then we use the Memsic accelerometer (https://www.parallax.com/product/28017) to create an AT bubble level. Now I want to convert these activities to the cyber:bot! You’ve got me thinking now… LOL

    By the way, the company I work for (the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center, or NICERC) has a limited partnership for supplies with Parallax but we are not related.

    Thanks again for the great ideas,
    Chuck

    Reply

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