Our Space Our Place Coding Camp offers inclusive space to learn

 |   Cheryl Cumings, Our Space Our Place founder

At Our Space Our Place (OSOP), we offer a respectful, accessible and fun environment for Boston-area elementary, middle and high school students who are legally blind to participate in team sports, the arts, community service and mentoring. For the past three summers, we’ve been lucky to extend that offer to students to learn technology skills at our Coding Camp.

Held July 6-13 at NERD, the purpose of this camp is to introduce HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to students who are blind or low-vision. Through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, we’re able to reach out to and involve students who are looking to learn skills that will provide them independence and full community participation.

OSOP’s coding camp is provided to a small, dedicated group—this year, seven students partook in the camp. Our youngest student was 11 years old and our oldest was 24 years old. This year, all of our students offered something a little different. One student who lives in Denver came to Boston to participate. Another couldn’t travel to Boston from Western Massachusetts and instead joined us on Skype each day. We had our first student participate with an ASL interpreter. And, for the first time, we received an inquiry from a young man who had an acquired brain injury (ABI) and he joined us too.

Part of what we’re doing is introducing kids to coding in the workplace—we wanted them to hear about how coding helps you when you think about employment. To drive this home, we had volunteers who work at a company who are all coders who came and spent the day talking with the students about what they do, how they learned coding, and how they use code in their day-to-day.

I was so impressed to see the students all respectful of one another’s needs and time. They understood the necessary steps we had to make to accommodate each student. The reason we could do this was because it was new to everybody. Everybody was willing to be patient with each other. We’re very fortunate that the students who came were very interested in the topic and were willing to be open-minded and generally very generous with each other.

By the end of the week, each student was able to create a basic webpage using the skills they learned. It’s exciting to see our students connect with the material and make things they care about; we even had one student tell us, “my mom wants to start a blog and now I can help her.” We look forward to these students learning more in this field and pursuing career and educational opportunities in coding.

We’re thankful for Microsoft for providing space at the NERD Center for programs like this. Not only does it give our students the opportunity to learn technology in a dedicated technology center, they get to meet Microsoft employees and see the careers they aspire for first-hand. We’re also thankful for the opportunity to recruit students who are interested in companies like Microsoft.