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:
- it is the most popular text-based programming language in UK schools
- 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:
- it is hard to tell the level of indentation using a screen reader alone
- error messages are displayed on the micro:bit screen and not read out.