Apple has today launched a partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) that will bring its accessible coding programme to blind and low vision students in the United Kingdom.
The program was initially launched in May 2018, when Apple announced partnerships with a number of schools for the blind and deaf in the United States to bring its Everyone Can Code curricula to their students.
Through its Everyone Can Code initiative, Apple provides a range of teacher guides and lessons, with students using iPads and the Swift Playgrounds app to use real programming code to solve puzzles and control characters.
Apple says that it collaborated with engineers, educators, and programmers from various accessibility communities to make Everyone Can Code as accessible as possible, and that it works in close coordination with partner schools and organizations to augment the curricula as needed. This includes providing additional tools and resources such as tactile maps to enhance the understanding of coding environments for non-visual learners.
Speaking at the time of the program's launch, Apple's CEO Tim Cook said that the company's mission “is to make products as accessible as possible,” and “we hope to bring Everyone Can Code to even more schools around the world serving students with disabilities.”
The partnership with RNIB is a step towards that vision and Apple's desire to make coding and app development accessible to all. Both Apple and RNIB will be making additional teaching and learning resources available in the coming months to complement what's already available through the program. The new resources will include separate books with graphics of the levels from Swift Playgrounds that are rendered in tactile, braille, and high-contrast ink print. Additionally, RNIB will be working with schools from across the UK to raise awareness of the accessible coding program, and provide support and resources to teachers of blind and low vision students.
Quoted in The Independent, RNIB's , Director of Services David Clarke said:
“Every child, including children with visual impairment, should have the opportunity to learn the programming and computer coding skills that are part of the national school curriculum. This is especially important for future participation in the growing digital economy. However, many of the tools and methods used by schools to introduce children to coding are not accessible to all."
In the same wide-ranging article, Apple's Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives Sarah Herrlinger makes an interesting comment on how ensuring ‘discoverability’ of the accessibility features of the company's products has become a growing challenge:
The sheer number and reach of accessibility features has meant that the challenge for Apple and its users has now become as much about helping people find features as it is about creating them.
To do so, it ensures that accessibility is promoted throughout its retail stores all over the world. That happens in the potentially obvious ways, like ensuring that employees are fully briefed as to how to welcome anyone into its stores. But it happens in longer-term ones, too, such as ensuring that retail staff are able to take people through all the accessibility features and running workshops – just as the company throws events to teach people to take the perfect selfie, there are similar lessons on the potentially hidden accessibility features found in iOS devices.
If Apple is serious about improving discoverability of accessibility features, we would like to take this opportunity to strongly encourage them to begin providing detailed release notes for software updates. This has been a longstanding wish of many who rely on accessibility features, and would ensure that people have the ability to know exactly what has changed between versions.
Elsewhere in The Independent's article, Sarah Herrlinger says how accessibility is at the core of Apple's design philosophy and process:
Such an approach is core to what Apple does, says Sarah Herrlinger. Everyone in Apple's engineering staff has that "foundation" because the company is clear "what our corporate values are and why they're important", she says, but the key role that the accessibility team plays makes sure that is a part of everything Apple does.
"Because it is just one team, they can really pay attention and ensure that when things are developed there's a consistency across them," she says.
Today's announcement was time to coincide with a talk by Sarah Herrlinger at Bett 2019, a teaching technology trade show being held in London this week.
In a session titled “Accessibility at Apple: innovating for all”, Sarah Herrlinger spoke on how Apple believes technology can play a powerful role in helping students be more productive, creative, collaborative and engaged, regardless of learning style, so build accessibility features into everything they make. She encouraged educators to learn about the power of accessible design to create the most engaging learning experiences for all.
The RNIB is one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and largest community of blind and partially sighted people.