Stephanie Ludi and Tom Reichlmayr, software engineering professors at the Rochester Institute of Technology, are working to increase the participation of people with visual impairments in computing fields. The ImagineIT summer workshop, funded by Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) of the National Science Foundation, is designed for middle and high school students (in grades 7 through 12) who have visual impairments and would like to learn more about computing through hands-on experiences. Participants learn about the wide variety of career fields within computing and explore how computing is applied in the real world.

The ImagineIT workshop is divided into three main modules: Robotics, Networking & Computer Hardware, and Game Design.

  • In the Robotics module, students learn about computer programming and design through Lego Mindstorms. Student teams use screen readers and magnification software, alongside accessible design manipulatives, to solve a problem involving searching using touch and sound. The activity encourages creativity alongside problem-solving and computing skills.
  • In the Networking & Computer Hardware module, students learn about the science of the computer while building a computer from its basic components and subsequently connecting the computer to the Internet. The tactile activity and lively discussion help students increase their confidence with computers and networking.
  • The Game Design module provides students the opportunity to design and program a computer game that is accessible and enjoyable. Each team develops a unique game that is shared with others.

In addition to the technical content, the ImagineIT workshop gives students opportunities to meet other students with similar interests from around the country. Participants work with peers in a team and interact with college students in an engaging environment.

The ImagineIT workshop is a promising practice because it creates an environment where students, regardless of their level of computer background or visual impairment, are able to explore computing through teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity. As a result, students gain a broad view of computing fields they may wish to explore in school and/or pursue as a career.