Students with Blindness

Hello everyone, I have a question for the FIRST community. Our team was hosting kickoff today, and I was approached by a, teacher, who was also a concerned parent. Her son is blind, and she came to the kickoff to see what FIRST could do for her son. She was wanting to know if there were any opportunities out vision impaired students. She and I chatted together for about a half an hour and we established that what she wanted to know, was if there were any suggestions I had regarding blind/disabled students, and how FIRST could help them. I had to admit, that I didn’t know.:confused: Her son is very interested in programming, but due to his lack of vision, is unable to use visual editors like LabVIEW and such. She stated that she would really appreciate some advice, especially from other FIRST Members, Alumni, Mentors, Coaches, and/or FIRST itself, that have had to go through school with a disability especially blindness. She really wants him to be able to meet up with other people who have had to go through things like this, and to share knowledge about what helps. She was also wondering about any ideas that anyone has about what to do to teach her son programming. While we talked we were chatting about the lack of support from teachers concerning people with disabilities. She shared with me an anecdote of one time when she was teaching a class, and another teacher advised her to not take a student because he/she had a disability This broke my heart.:frowning: I cannot believe that someone would do something this heartless. I would like to hear your thoughts about anything here. I would really appreciate getting advice as to what to do, so I can relay that to her. I know the FIRST community and I know that when we all work together, we can preform miracles.:smiley:
Go to 40 minutes – it’s a TEDTalk on haptics. A bit tangentially related, but something to look at.

Another thing that a team member (who’s sitting next to me) is talking about is speech-to-text technology.

My short answer is that there are a number of programming languages available for the cRio other than LabView, but my long answer involves the fact that while you have laid out a disability that this student faces, I don’t have a good sense of what abilities or interests (other than programming) the student has. Nor am I familiar with what adaptive technologies are available for assisting the blind in dealing with non-text-based computer displays. I try to answer questions like this by looking at the ability first, and then considering how to adapt to overcome the challenges.

My immediate sense is that something like VEX or FTC, where the student could be “hands on” with the entire robot might be a great starting point. I also tend to say this for sighted students, too, but in this case perhaps even more so.

And while this comment is not directly related to the real goal (including the student in a meaningful way in the robotics community)…

I would like to point out that the responsibility for including students with disabilities extends far beyond the classroom teacher. The teacher, of course, is made out to be the “heartless” person here, but if there is inadequate support from the school board then having an additional special needs student in a class can be very demanding and reduce the quality of teaching provided to the rest of the class. I’ll agree that this may well be heartbreaking, but would suggest looking a little deeper before assigning blame.


U of Maryland in Baltimore County has a lab dedicated to technology for accessibility.

There are FLL students and, I believe, entire teams who are composed of students with blindness so there are resources out there.

I would recommend reaching out to the Senior Mentors. You have a Senior Mentor in Conn.

First of all, I would like to apologize, I was not meaning for what I wrote to be offensive, but I mean the way the teacher worded it, he/she did not say something like, It may be harder to work with this type of person, but instead the teacher said “Are you sure you want to have this person in your class? You know he is disabled right?” I feel that his way of addressing this is very offensive.

I made the following edit after gluxon’s comment below:
EDIT: I Digress, It is not my authority to critique people’s way of wording things, or how people handle situations. I am just asking for help, I should not be accusing anyone of anything. Please forgive me.

Let’s not get into this. dtengineering was simply asking you to not hold blame in the wrong area. No one’s angry. :slight_smile:

As for the situation, it will be very hard for the student to do graphical programming with LabView. He/she will need to learn Java or C++, as it is text-based and capable of being read out loud with a screen reader. There is a very nice post on (programming Q&A site) that has information on advice from a successful blind programming using a screen reader called JAWS (first answer).

The post specifically states to stay away from Netbeans, as it does not have full speech reading compatibility. Eclipse IDE is recommended for C++, but not Java by FIRST. If you end up trying out Java, there is experimental Java plugin]( for Eclipse you could try. I got it working, but there’s no support by FIRST at the moment.

This is definitely possible, but it will unfortunately require the student to have double the passion and time for learning programming as everyone else. Good luck!

A blind school in Texas recently won their local FLL Regional. Visually impaired people have become radio amateur operators for decades. While difficult, there should be a way for this student to participate.

This is somewhat related: My team started an FLL team last year at the MN Academy for the Deaf and have had a deaf student on our own team for 3 or 4 years now. It may be harder for disabled students, but it is definitely not impossible.

While this wont help with dealing with Blindness, there is a team from a school for the deaf. Ewing High School & Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf. Team 2016. They may be able to help with FIRST and disabilities.

Team website:

I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you guys are all helping out. I have gotten a few e-mails that are not here as well telling me about stories, and about how they got through the difficulty. I really admire one person who e-mailed me and told me his experience. His was very similar, he had a blind child on a first robotics team. The thing that I loved the most is that he said he was willing to share his stories, and his son said that he would keep in touch with this student and his mother. I am so glad that FIRST has such a great community with what they were talking about in the broadcast, Gracious Professionalism, which means that regardless of what team you are on, people will help you and tell you their experiences. Thank you all so much for posting. I would really like some more of your experiences as well. Even if it is not related to blindness, but it is a different disability, it would be much appreciated if you could post it here. Thank you everyone!

I’m not sure of the current student in question, but being a parent of a child that is legally blind “20/200” vision. We do not let that stop him and nor does he let it. He is currently on a FLL team and has been around FIRST since he was 2 years old. He currently has a CCTV, a FarView, and izoom technology to utilize. But he finds it best to be 5 inches from a Monitor to see. He does everything from working on the Lego Robot, Project, and Programming, and is treated as a team member. The students know his limitations and work with him to help work out anything he has trouble with.

His older brothers are on 4-H Exploding Bacon Robotics FRC team 1902 in Florida and the students, mentors, parents,etc. treat him like any other student. Today he was actually giving strategy ideas to the teams at our Mini Kickoff.

Good Luck - I hope they find a team to work with them.

1 Like

I don’t have any experience with anyone with a disability and FIRST unfortunately, but I can say that even if his team isn’t able to put together an opportunity in programming for him, Chairman’s and other award submissions are always a good back-up plan. The Chairman’s presentation for a team is a very important part of the competition and if he doesn’t mind getting up in front of judges and doing a presentation with other members from his team, that might also be a good place for him.

I would also like to say that I think the FIRST community is one of the best communities to be involved with when facing a challenge such as this. The community is generally very receptive to anyone, no matter who they are, and embrace them fully and teach them the meaning of FIRST and all it has to offer. Please feel free to contact me further if there is anything the family wants to know about FIRST. I would love to help via email to give an advice or any help and support they may need with getting involved. I am sure that everything will work out fine and that this student will be an exceptional one just like anyone else. Good luck this season everyone!

Hi Lanse,

Thank you for creating this thread.

I spent some time this past fall helping to mentor an FLL team at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired here in Austin, Texas. It is their rookie year and they have worked very hard - as have all of the FLL teams.

If you would like, I would be more than happy to talk with the teacher/concerned parent who spoke with you. I will send you a private message with my phone number and e-mail and please feel free to forward it to the teacher.

I have always been a believer that anything is possible. Students in these FIRST programs continue to prove me right.

Thank you again,

Thank You for this topic. We have had disabled students before but this would be different. We are a machine shop intensive program so it would be difficult. All of our disabled students have worked on the robot and not felt they had make work jobs. While I had thought about the awards submissions the use of a screen reader is a new one for me and would allow the student to work on the robot if interested in programing. I believe that using our Sherline mill and lathe we could give enough training so that the student would have a feel for what the team is doing on the larger machines. I think it would be easer and more beneficial for the student we started a Vex team but I will give this subject a lot more thought. Thanks again for this new project.