A New Approach to Supporting ICT Education for the Visually Impaired (Part 2)

Takashi Hasuo

The uphill battle to help bring accessibility a key focus in everybody's mind.
Interviewer & Japanese Writer: Yamamoto Takaya; Translation & Editing: Matthew Cherry

Takashi Hasuo was well underway researching and developing software aimed at making the study of data science easier for those with visual impairments. But he wasn’t just interested in solely developing software. Guided by his desire to make the first step into learning data science more accessible for those with visual impairments, he applied to the INNO-vation Program and was selected for the 2020 Disruptive Challenge.

One thing Hasuo decided to take on during his time in the INNO-vation Program was to brush up on the supplementary educational materials used by actual teachers in order to make the content more understandable for those with visual impairments. Japan’s government has recently revised its school curriculum guidelines, and in 2022 data science became a subject taught in information classes at high schools around the country. These revisions received quite the buzz when they were announced, as they included education for the programming language Python, which plays a central role in data science.

However, the supplemental materials for these subjects are mainly created for students that don’t have visual impairments. In order to let all students easily follow along with the revised curriculum, Hasuo began reviewing the educational content created for these classes.

The educational materials in question were created by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology) and uploaded onto their website. In order to deal with the legal issues that would surely arise from using these materials, Hasuo sought the support of a lawyer with the help of the INNO-vation Program. After clearing up any potential problems, he began work on improving the materials for those with visual impairments. Any phrase that assumed the reader could see was changed to have more inclusive language. Hasuo also approached programmers with visual impairments to ask their opinions on the material.

One aspect to consider was screen reading software that reads information displayed on a computer screen out loud. Since programmers with visual impairments are the most familiar with which parts of the software are easy to use as well as what settings are optimal, Hasuo asked them to provide explanations guided toward future students of data science who may also have impairments.

A Screen Reader for Users in Introductory Programming and data science.

Introductory supplementary materials for programming and data science, created for those using screen readers. Available in Japanese here

Hasuo also found it difficult to explain how to program when discussing the methods he learned when he started programming. He asked programmers with visual impairments to explain how they learned to program. First, they would learn to understand the concept of programming itself, then learn to program little by little with the aid of sound. Hasuo incorporated these concepts into his materials.

Although Hasuo was also able to improve his software that allowed for the reading of graphs through sound, he explained that he was only about 30% satisfied with his overall progression.

“In the end, I wish I could have involved myself more with people in the government who have a direct impact on these educational materials to help students and other adults with visual impairments realize there’s a path available to becoming a data scientist and to become more connected with the field,” Hasuo said reflecting on his time in the program.

In Part 3, we’ll ask Hasuo about his activities beyond the INNO-vation Program.

Continued in Part 3 (Coming October 31st, 2022)

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