Getting started with Programming & Making
How many computers have you interacted with today? Chances are you have encountered almost a dozen individual computers even before you have leave your home in the morning. These computers are small and large, built into the objects in your home - the alarm clock, electric toothbrush, thermostat, water heater for your shower, refridgerator, radio & tv, personal computer (with Internet connection of course), your cellphone and most likely your car, subway, bus, segway, wheelchair or bicycle has one or more computers built-in.
If you are a person with a disability your relationship with computers might be even more personal - you might use one of the following:
Power wheelchairs have small computers inside to control seat position, driving speed and direction.
Communication aides are specialized software applications that can be used with a keyboard, touch screen or accessibility switch to speak the words for a person who is non-verbal.
Environmental control units (ECU) are a way to remotely control entertainment, security, hygiene and many household appliances with as little as a finger switch, computers and a local network of electronics provide.
And ventilators are machines that have a crucial job, to maintain a stable rate of breathing for a person - made up of air pumps, hoses, wires and several computers - we put all our faith into these machines and for the most part they do an amazing job.
Programming Micro-camp for Teens with Disabilities
DIYAbility held a session yesterday, July 14th, to introduce teenagers with disabilities the basics of computer programming. Hosted at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU we talked about current technology, played with a Wheelchair DJ, the Kinect and explored the basics of computer programming with SCRATCH from MIT. The teens (and their parents) who attended were encouraged to ask questions and to be hands-on as much as possible during the workshop, this wasn't a school class it was a place to explore and see how things work...breaking things is okay!
SCRATCH from MIT is a visual, drag-n-drop programming language. Instead of typing code you have blocks that can connected, fit inside one another and these combinations can create the logic for a simple yet fun programming introduction. You can interact with clip art and make a cat fly, rotate and change colors while moving the computer mouse, or you can make the cat "meow" when the computer's microphone detects sound. SCRATCH was the perfect tool for this age group and ability, it give immediate feedback on how your code blocks are set up and there is a huge community online sharing their sketches.
While we had limited time in our workshop we did have a lot of fun with some teenagers, a speaker system and a custom program to make a music video. At the end of the session we encouraged the teens to try SCRATCH at home and report back, telling them we would be happy to assist them with any questions they have.
Programming & Making Matter
Computers are such an important part of life for persons with disabilities, the goal of DIYAbility is that any person who can use a computer independently should have the appropriate technology to do so, and once a person has access the computer is a world opener. The computer gives a person the opportunity to become more independent, follow your passion and create tools, apps and physical "things" to make the world better for themselves and others. We have plans for more workshops around programming but also around making things and electronics, if you can access a computer all of these modern day tools are increasingly accessible.
Special thanks to Erica Newman, Lily Szajnberg and Craig Protzel for hanging out and assisting with the session. And thanks to the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU for sharing workspace with our microcamp for teens.