Our technology-driven world is constantly growing, creating new standards and opportunities. Throughout this growth, though, it is pertinent to ensure that this technology is accessible to all. In the spirit of Microsoft’s renewed focus on the connection between technology and accessibility, Smarter in the City introduced us toOur Space Our Place (OSOP), which provides access to education for blind and low-vision students. Programs like Our Space Our Place (OSOP), bring to the table technology — and tech skills — that empower our youth and bring them to a level playing field. OSOP emerged out of the desire of professionals who are blind and parents with children who are blind to improve the employment outcomes for the next generation of blind youth.
— Aimee Sprung
As our society progresses through technology, one of the main questions we have to ask ourselves is how we make tech accessible to all. The influence of technology in our jobs, our schools, and our home lives can’t be denied — so it only makes sense that we all understand it on a skill-based level. That’s why we’re bringing coding to Our Space Our Place (OSOP). OSOP is a non-profit organization, offering a respectful, accessible and fun environment for middle and high school students who are legally blind to participate in team sports, the arts, community service and mentoring in Boston and its surrounding communities.
While technology may be everywhere, access to tech is not. Many individuals who are visually impaired use tools that turn text on a screen into speech, but not every coding language is accessible through these means. And not everyone knows that you can code via speech. So we designed a summer camp that makes the coding experience as accessible as possible.
I want blind kids to learn how to code because I think a lot of times we limit ourselves to just being users of technology. I’m interested in kids understanding that they can be creators of technology. I want to expand future work opportunities for folks who are visually impaired. We’re looking for that somebody who hasn’t thought of this as a possible career — they know they like video games or doing things on the web, but never thought “I could be one of those people.” They can be.
One of the mentors here at Smarter in the City, Tim Buntel, articulated it very well in saying that as we move into the 21st and 22nd century, computers will play a bigger part in our lives. We need to improve our computer literacy. This is all part of that.
I’m hoping that as we put this together and implement it, we’ll start building connections with tech leaders who want to improve accessibility. There are so many local companies embracing tech, and it just seems to me that there has to be a space there for people who are visually impaired. If people know that blind kids are interested in coding, they’ll start creating more internship opportunities and employment options for adults.
One study estimates SSI and SSDI beneficiaries who enter the disability programs before age 30 remain on benefits an average of 33 years and incur cumulative SSDI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid, expenditures averaging nearly $600,000 during that period—about twice the amount estimated for all working-age beneficiaries (Riley and Rupp 2015). Kids who begin on SSI stay on SSI.
One of the reasons I started OSOP is because there’s been such a high unemployment rate within the blindness community — and across all the disability community. About a third of the people who are blind who want to work are working, which means two-thirds are not working. That is just completely unacceptable.
As we’re talking about a society of inclusion, we need to make sure that we really are taking advantage of all of the skills of everybody. And everybody includes folks who are blind and low vision.
Find more about Our Space Our Place’s programs — including summer coding camp — here.