by Quincy Larson

Helping blind people learn to code

David Strathairn played Irwin “Whistler” Emery, a blind hacker and phone phreak, in the 1992 thriller “Sneakers”. The character interfaced with computers through a braille display.

1 out of every 100 software developers is blind.

We know this because Stack Overflow recently asked 64,000 developers whether they have disabilities.

The question is: how can blind developers code when they can’t see the screen?

freeCodeCamp contributor Florian Beijers was born blind. He’s able to code using a standard-issue laptop. He uses a piece of software called a screen reader. With it, he can select a line of text or code, and hear its contents read back to him at hundreds of words per minute.

Florian wrote an article explaining how he’s able to accomplish all this.

“A screen reader basically, at its most basic level — wait for it — reads the screen. It tells you the textual content of the screen with a synthesized text-to-speech Siri-like voice. Screen readers also allow for the use of a braille display, a device that consists of a line of refreshable braille cells that can form letters according to what content is highlighted on the screen.” — Florian Beijers
Tuukka Ojala codes in his cubicle, with no need for a monitor.

You might think blindness would restrict the kinds of coding you can do, but that isn’t necessarily the case, as one blind developer explains:

“You would think that frontend development was so inherently visual that it would be no place for a blind developer, and for the most part that is true. You won’t find me doing a basic Proof-of-Concept on my own, since those projects tend to be mostly about getting the looks right and adding the real functionality later.
“However, I’ve had my fair share of Angular and React work too. How’s that? Many web apps of today have a lot going on under the hood in the browser. For example, I once worked a couple of weeks adding internationalization support to a somewhat complex Angular app. I didn’t need to do any visual changes at all.
“I’ve found that libraries like Bootstrap are a godsend for people like me. Because of the grid system I can lay out a rough version of the user interface on my own. Despite this all the interface-related changes I’m doing are going through a pair of eyes before shipping to the customer.” — Tuukka Ojala

Some blind developers may even choose not to reveal their disability. They can get their work done without their clients even realizing that they’re coding without the use of sight.

“From the outset of my freelancing career I’ve mostly made it a practice not to reveal my disability. I always thought that if I deliver well, there’s no reason that I should reveal my blindness. In fact in my opinion that would rather put me at disadvantage as work relationships over the internet are largely driven by impression — showcasing your skills and abilities.
“With grace, this has worked fine and I’ve worked with clients across the world currently being as security/solution architect consultant on a project for a multi-billion dollar financial company in the US.
“At present I’m personally earning $10k monthly which is quite good in India and setting me up for likely never needing to go back to a job again.” — Hacker News user TriNetra

I hope this inspires you to keep coding despite whatever setbacks you face, and to encourage other people to do the same.

There are many blind developers within the freeCodeCamp.org community. Here are some things they said about freeCodeCamp’s curriculum in a discussion a couple weeks ago in one of their mailing groups (thanks to Florian for sharing these quotes with me):

“I am taking the challenges. I like the site. I asked them to do some accessibility tweaks and they were very responsive.”
“Thanks for such a great website! I’ve loved it. I’m a student and I was just looking for something like this to learn JavaScript. You come to my rescue! Thanks!”
“Yes, free code camp is great, I’ve used it now for around a month or so. The visual design section is rather hard for a blind person, but I’ve gotten the basics well.”

The freeCodeCamp community will continue our mission to make a world class technology education accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities.

You can also do your part, and support millions of people around the world who are learning to code. Make a tax-deductible donation to freeCodeCamp.org.

Together, we can create more free education resources, and make them even more accessible to people with disabilities who are learning to code.