Charlotte Finn is the VP, Programs-EMEA at Salesforce.org at Salesforce.org, a nonprofit social enterprise that leverages Salesforce’s technology, people, and resources to improve communities around the world. Charlotte supports employee volunteerism and directs funding to areas like STEM education as well as helping non-profit organisations access technology.
Liverpool is a key Northern technology hub. According to the Tech Nation report 2016 [PDF], 17 percent of companies in the city are in the digital/tech sector. Around 20,000 people are employed in tech roles throughout the city, and that number grows every time companies put down roots in the area.
So where will the workers of tomorrow come from to fill demand in the tech sector?
We often talk about introducing kids to coding as a way of building the talent pipeline. It’s something that I think really works, and we’ve witnessed successful CoderDojos and other similar coding groups springing up around the country to create this future pool of talent. But although the Dojos and other coding clubs teaching the technology skills needed for today – and tomorrow – are accessible to most, there are many groups left underserved. That includes those with visual impairments.
So I’m delighted that a successful, fast growing tech hub like Liverpool is also embracing diversity and accessibility in the industry. The city’s St.Vincent’s Specialist School for Sensory Impairment, a school that provides education for visually impaired children, is leading the way in driving change in this critical area.
At the moment, children with visual impairments are challenged by the traditional way that code is taught. Scratch, for example, relies entirely on visuals.
That’s why at Salesforce we’ve been working with an incredible team called a11yhacks to change this, and we’ve launched a new series of accessibility Dojos. Together with CoderDojo we set up a workshop where 50 would-be ‘coding ninjas’ at St Vincent’s got the chance to learn code in a fun and interactive way. We taught the kids about web accessibility through puzzles, experimental braille communications powered by the BBC micro:bit as well as using Primo Toys’ Cubetto to give participants the chance to programme a robot using physical blocks.
It’s important to remember that CoderDojos are a great extra-curricular activity that teach children a range of vital skills. They aren’t just about turning children into developers, but they seek to help these children be more articulate and think logically – essentially giving transferrable skills that will help them in life.
By creating and running accessibility Dojos, we’re hoping to introduce visually impaired children to coding, but at the same time, we also are working to give them another opportunity to learn skills that will help in life and make them more employable.
People with visual impairments are less likely to be employed than the rest of the UK population. I believe that greater inclusivity when it comes to skills can help address this.
CoderDojo is also trying to build awareness of accessibility among the next generation of sighted developers. It’s working to educate the children who attend their mainstream Dojos, providing guidelines and making them aware that not everyone sees a website in the same way.
The success of the event at St Vincent’s school in Liverpool demonstrates the appetite among visually impaired children to engage in coding – something that’s incredibly heartening for our industry. It also gives us a foretaste of the opportunities that similar coding clubs could provide for visually sighted children if run regularly across the country.
With the Northern tech powerhouse really starting to take off and Liverpool being key to its success, it now seems like a perfect time for the tech industry in the North – and throughout Great Britain – to get involved in accessibility Dojos and inspire young people throughout the country.
If you’d like more information on joining a11yhacks and setting up an accessibility Dojo in your town, please visit https://facebook.com/accessdojo.