CAN Report

Computer Science for All: Safeguarding Participation of Students with Disabilities

""On January 30, 2016, President Obama’s weekly address was called “Giving Every Student an Opportunity to Learn Through Computer Science For All”

Here’s the link to the Obama’s Weekly Address about CS Education.

In his address, Obama stated that computer science (CS) is a new basic skill that is necessary for both economic opportunity and social mobility. He declared that ALL students in grades K-12 should have access to computer science education in order to learn how to be digital creators (rather than simply consumers of technology) and informed digital citizens.

In what is known as “CS for All,” the president’s initiative calls for:

  • $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for school districts in his forthcoming Budget to expand K-12 CS by training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.
  • $135 million in Computer Science funding to become available starting this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
  • Expanding access to prior NSF supported programs and professional learning communities through their CS10k Initiative that led to the creation of more inclusive and accessible CS curriculum including Exploring CS and Advanced Placement (AP) CS Principles among others.
  • Involving even more governors, mayors, and education leaders to help boost CS following the leadership of states like Delaware, Hawaii, Washington, Arkansas, and more than 30 school districts that have already begun to expand CS opportunities.
  • Engaging CEOs, philanthropists, creative media, technology, and education professionals to deepen their CS commitments. More than 50 organizations are making commitments. Learn more and get involved and make a commitment here.

In addition to the President’s initiative, there is also movement within states and school districts to expand the reach of CS education including: Ensuring course offering in CS, making CS count as a math credit, and even requiring CS as a graduation requirement. These initiatives are driven by the fact that incredible career opportunities open up for students who have a background in CS and can do computer programming. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that by the year 2024, there will be 4.4 million jobs in computer and information technology, and because we are not preparing people with the skills needed for these positions, approximately a million of these jobs will be unfilled by the year 2020. In addition to the “career pipeline” argument for including CS in K-12 education, a growing body of research suggests that students can learn creative problem solving, reasoning, and collaboration skills through computing experiences, so there is a pedagogical rationale for CS education as well.

There are many policy implications for students with disabilities that should be addressed in order to ensure that they are included in the CS for All movement. Below are just a few areas that we should consider:

  • Inclusion in CS education: The current national discourse around CS for All does not include students with disabilities in explicit ways. The discourse is primarily focused on increasing participation of girls and students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It is critically important to focus on these two groups of students, but it is just as important to also include students with disabilities in the conversation. We need to urge policy makers as well as people in districts and state departments of education to include students with disabilities in CS for All initiatives in a proactive rather than a reactionary way. See my blog post on the Teacher Community Blog.
  • A focus on Universal Design for Learning (UDL): CS education in K-12 is relatively new (especially in K-8) and, consequently, its pedagogies are still emerging. There are new curricula being developed and adopted across the country, but teachers are still learning how to best teach ALL students to be computational thinkers. This is a prime time to advocate that UDL be at the center of CS education, especially in light of the fact that UDL is now codified into the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as included in the National Education Technology Plan. This means that CS professional development for teachers should include UDL and that we strongly encourage curriculum developers to integrate UDL into their software, materials, lesson plans, and assessments.
  • Ensuring individualized CS instruction: Alongside universally designed instruction, if CS education is going to be truly engaging for all learners, teachers will need to adapt the individualized supports that they provide students in other content areas to CS instruction. The limited data that we do have suggests that, in most cases, the individualized supports, modifications, and accommodations that are successful across the school day should translate well to CS education. There is no need to recreate the wheel. For example, if a student requires strategies for metacognitive self-regulation in math instruction, that same student will require similar supports during CS instruction and if a student requires visual schedules across the school day, those visual schedules will need to be adapted to include CS activities.
  • A Focus on Accessible Educational Materials and Technologies: There is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to CS education about the accessibility of educational materials and technologies being developed. For example, many software programs used to teach CS to K-8 students are visual block-based programming languages that are excellent tools that convert complex text-based programming to visually intuitive “blocks” that students can assemble into working code. However, these are not accessible to students with visual impairments. Although there is movement to create programming languages for students who are visually impaired (see Quorum, a programming language that can be used with screen readers), these are the exception. In addition to issues faced by students with visual impairments, we should also focus more broadly on Accessible Educational Materials.

In summary, this is an unprecedented time wherein there is national investment in broadening participation to CS education. As a community, we should participate in the national CS education discourse so that we can inform how CS education can best include students with disabilities. This includes developing recommendations for software and curriculum developers to guide the development of accessible tools rather than (once again) retrofit and modify existing tools for students with disabilities, provide guidance to school districts that are implementing CS for All in order to ensure the fullest participation of all learners, including those with disabilities, and providing input on national frameworks and standards.

Immediate call to action: On March 14, 2016, the CS K-12 Framework (concepts and practices that will eventually be adopted by states and used to made into standards) will open up to peer review. Please visit the website (, look at the framework, and provide your feedback. We need all of our voices!!