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These teachers are bringing computer science to students with disabilities

Two preservice teachers in the UFTeach education program at the University of Florida looking at a tablet screen of a block-based coding editor.

Since 2004, Google has committed over $240 million to provide educational opportunities to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, background, race or geography. For Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year, I’m proud to spotlight one innovative program we funded that is helping teachers engage students with disabilities in computer science (CS) learning.

In Broward County, Florida, 10 computer science and special education teachers are participating in a professional development (PD) program called “PD in Inclusive Practices for CS Education.” The program is supported by a $100,000 grant from Grow with Google and was developed by the Creative Technology Research Lab at University of Florida.

The program provides teachers with access to a lending library so they can test and implement a wide range of high-quality CS education instructional tools that are accessible to learners with disabilities. It also offers instructional coaching to support teachers in integrating what they learned within their own classrooms, using existing curricula and new materials. Throughout the year, the teachers in the program will reach a total of 3,000 students.

One of the participants, Daniel Jones is a computer science teacher who works with students with disabilities in grades 8–12. Though never diagnosed with a disability, he remembers the hurt he felt as a kid when he couldn’t keep up in class. “One of my classmates asked the teacher to ‘Help him. He’s slow.’ He was talking about me,” he says. “Now as an educator, it is my goal to make sure no student ever feels like I did that day. Everyone can learn. It is up to me to find out how each of my students learns and processes information.”

As the director of the Creative Technology Research Lab at UF, Director Maya Israel, PhD works to develop innovative approaches and develop programs like this one to prepare educators to teach computer science to all K-12 learners. “Most CS educational curricula and tools are not designed for a broad range of learners including those with disabilities,” says Research Director Maya Israel, PhD. “There’s been little focus on providing CS learning to students with disabilities, who make up approximately 15% of all K–12 public school students.”

Dr. Israel believes growing this program will have a great impact for students. “When we actively include people with disabilities into computer science fields, we end up with better-designed products and tools that are helpful to everyone,” she says.

Dan says students with disabilities can unlock their learning potential through computer science. One of his students excelled at a coding game activity, writing over 100 lines of code, “He is well below grade level in reading,” Dan shared. “And coding is helping him understand how to read and write. I can’t stop smiling, I am so proud of him!”

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