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Student-Created Application Provides an Adaptable and Flexible Programming Environment for the Visually Impaired

Posted on in Categories Smalltalk, Success Stories

At Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Buenos Aires, Argentina, two students, along with the backing of their professors, elected to tackle a challenge that was affecting their visually impaired classmates: integrating screen readers with Smalltalk.

For students Ángeles Tella Arena and Matias Melendi, the project was about ensuring that their blind classmates could interact with the tool in the same way as all of the other students. Their professors, Gabriela Arevalo and Maximo Prieto, were supportive.

According to Ángeles, “They showed a real interest in the project and encouraged us to keep pushing it forward.”

The Challenge – and the Vision

As Smalltalk is virtualized, the windows that it generates are
objects. They are not native windows that are accessible to
the screen readers, since everything is inside the image.

According to Matias, “The purpose for Phase One was to allow our blind classmate to have the same experience the rest of his classmates had when learning object-oriented programming. Thanks to this, the project evolved, and Lazaro came to life, with the intention to make live interaction with objects available for every blind person who would like to learn.”

A Solution in Two Phases

  • Phase One: The work done in this initial phase was
    developed based on the needs of their blind classmate,
    Miguel. The goal was to make it possible for him to
    experience a first-semester lecture on the object-oriented
    paradigm within the same conditions as the rest of the
    students. The students adapted a web distribution of
    Smalltalk in order to be read properly by a screen reader.
  • Phase Two, named Lazaro, came about when Miguel
    became a teaching assistant. With the Phase One app, he
    was not able to check exams or exercises. Lazaro was
    implemented to read the code for non-web Smalltalk
    distributions. In fact, the application opens a process that
    connects to text-to-speech systems.

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