Supporting accessibility and inclusion in coding

By Tara McGrath & Nuala McHale. Posted

There are best practices well worth adopting

Introducing an accessibility guide that’s designed to make CoderDojo clubs an environment for all

In any club or classroom you will have participants with different needs, including participants with disabilities and/or additional needs. The vision of CoderDojo is that all young people should have the opportunity to learn about technology and be creative in a safe and social environment. Therefore inclusion and accessibility are key to what we do in our volunteer-led coding clubs.

Leading by example

Prior to the development of our accessibility guide, multiple club organisers noted how they wanted to make their CoderDojo clubs (Dojos) more accessible for participants who have a disability, but they weren’t sure where to begin. 

When Dojo volunteer and UCD SU Disability Rights Campaign Officer, Hannah, approached us with her experience and resources she had helped develop already for her University, we jumped at the opportunity to support clubs to become more inclusive. 

Hannah Bryson is the UCD CoderDojo champion, and she says that “I have been teaching kids coding since 2013. As an autistic adult, I have always tried to make the CoderDojo clubs I have been involved in inclusive for disabilities. I noticed there was a need for me to share my knowledge to give people more ideas on how to make their club more inclusive. I approached the CoderDojo Foundation with the idea of creating a guide, as previously I had developed something similar for my University societies. I suggested the structure for the guide which they approved. This incorporated the concepts of inclusive language, reasonable adjustment, accessible information, the importance of dealing with disclosure, and ideas that have worked in my experience as a mentor. Thankfully this inclusive organisation took my ideas on board and ran with it. What started to be a two-page leaflet has now grown into a 34-page guide. At every stage, they have asked for my input and sent the drafts to disability charities for feedback. A lot of work has gone into this guide by many people and I am proud to be part of this inclusive community.”

What we learned

In the guide, we discuss how you can make your club more accessible. Listening to your participants, making reasonable adjustments, and deciding what works best in each unique situation means we can all have the best possible experience. Some snippets from the guide include:

  • Ask the person what terms they are most comfortable with you using in relation to their disability. Avoid using terms that may be considered offensive, or any language that may exclude or isolate the person.

  • Include detailed accessibility information about the venue. Be as specific as possible. Bear in mind that the venue building may be accessible, but the room in which you host your club or class may not be.

  • Examples of reasonable adjustments include using posters to signpost the room where your Dojo is held, rearranging tables and chairs to create a more accessible space for wheelchair users, and designating a ‘quiet corner’.

  • Describe the environment to the person when they start at your club. Describe where different things are in the space and make use of landmarks, so that they can become comfortable with moving through the environment.

In the words of Natasha, the champion of Derry CoderDojo, “the most important thing we have found is to talk to the parents or guardians. Every child is different, and some have certain things that will help them. One boy in our Dojo has Asperger’s syndrome, and a grandparent explained that he zones out his hearing when sensory overload kicks in. We now know to place a hand on his shoulder when speaking to him, as this helps him to focus on listening to us.

There is another child in our Dojo who finds making choices very difficult when faced with too wide a range. So, we tend to restrict choices where possible. For example, when choosing a colour for something, instead of ‘What colour is this going to be?’, we would ask ‘Will we make this red or blue?’ These are very specific examples for individual kids and will not work for all Ninjas. So, family members really are your first port of call.”

In-person discussions

As well as creating a guide of best practices that clubs can use to improve the accessibility of their own spaces and the support they provide to people who are impacted by a wide variety of disabilities, we held an in person meet-up in Dublin. At this event, guest speakers who are experts in their specific field spoke on how Dojos could implement changes and understand the positive impact these changes would have on people’s lives. Speakers included:

  • Dave Milliken, a freelance consultant in the healthcare world, working with both government and private organisations. He is passionate about making sure that people using services are not left out of the decision-making process.

  • Hannah Bryson, UCD SU Disability Rights Campaign Officer, CoderDojo volunteer, and Disability Activist. Hannah also advised at length on the Accessibility Guide, mentioned earlier.

  • Gearoid Kearney, CEO of MyAccessHub, an Irish startup making it easier for companies to incorporate disability access into their workspaces. 

  • Magda Jadach, a software developer and accessibility lead at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. She is an advocate for diversity in technology, in and out of the office.

What we learned from the meet-up

The meet-up itself was an inclusive and informal event, where attendees were encouraged to chat, share experiences, and learn from one another. In particular, the layout of the agenda worked well; a combination of presentations, hardware and digital making demos, and splitting into small groups to discuss various issues allowed the event to flow smoothly, with everyone having the chance to share their own experience in a way that suited them.

We were lucky to have a panel of engaging and dedicated speakers at the meet-up, each of whom were directly involved in some form of accessibility provision, in widely diverse ways. The personal experiences of disability that each speaker shared undoubtedly struck a chord with the audience and prompted an engaging Q&A dialogue at the end of the session, aided by the application MentiMeter.

  • People are diverse and unique, not everyone that is neurodiverse or has a disability have the same needs or interests. 

  • Dave shared three pieces of advice for working with any one who has additional needs – patience, perseverance, and listening.

  • There is a fear about asking the ‘right’ question without causing upset or offence. During the meet-up we asked all the attendees to ‘assume good intent’. This helped to prompt questions that people had previously been afraid of asking.

  • There is a spectrum of ability and disability that we are all on. Everyone needs support sometimes, even mentors and parents.

We are delighted to have worked, and continue to work with, community members like Hannah, Fiona Baxter, Sandra, Ewan, and those involved in Curtain Dojo in Western Australia to make our Dojos more inclusive and accessible. We also acknowledge there is plenty more work that we need to do. Neurodiversity and disability are not the only accessibility issues that we need to overcome. Making coding more accessible to young people regardless of their race, gender, or socio-economic background is something we are continuing to work on with our global community of volunteers.

How can you learn more?

We are currently in the process of designing editable social story cards for children with ASD. The draft versions of which are being tested by children at the moment. You can read the full screen-reader friendly CoderDojo Accessibility Guide for free in both a digital and print-ready versions.

Find out more about CoderDojo, our network of free volunteer-led coding clubs, and avail of organisers’ resources, such as our meet-up guide and more at coderdojo.com.

Tara McGrath

Tara McGrath

Tara is a learning project manager based in Dublin. Prior to this she was the Community Coordinator for Ireland, working for the CoderDojo Foundation.

Nuala McHale

Nuala McHale

Nuala (@NuliBouli) is the Global Engagement manager for The CoderDojo Foundation. She has worked for the Foundation for more than three years.


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