Microsoft partners with Kansas School for the Blind in new computer science program

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 4:03 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Kansas State School for the Blind is teaming up with Microsoft to teach students who identify as blind or low vision how to explore new areas of computer science.

The new program is now giving instructors and students the power to code despite their disabilities.

“The Kansas State School for the Blind is the first school for the blind in the United States to work with Microsoft to make one of their courses accessible, usable, and understandable for students who are blind or visually impaired,” said Kansas State School for the Blind Accessibility Specialist/Teacher Christian Puett.

The program is called TEALS and stands for Technology Education and Learning Support. It’s designed to build sustainable computer science programs.

“The way that the model works is we have volunteers from the industry who go into the classes and teach along with the teachers, whether in-person or remotely to really support the teachers in learning and developing that content knowledge around computer science,” said Microsoft Philanthropies Director of Skills & Education Anu Shekhar.

For Christian Puett, it’s a win-win. He’s now able to give and gain knowledge during each class.

“I am able to learn alongside my students, the language of Python, which is a text-based coding language that’s very accessible with the screen reading software and braille displays and all that people who are visually impaired use to access their device,” Puett said.

According to Microsoft, the broader focus for TEALS is accessibility – focusing on closing the gap around computer science education.

“That gap is widened when it comes to students who identify as blind or low-vision, students with disabilities in general, girls, and students of color,” Shekhar said.

Because the class is taught using an online platform, students from across the country have signed up – including Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and California.

“We just kind of take whoever is interested,” said Puett. “It’s been really fun to see them get excited about coding. You put something in, something happens. It’s that basic cause and effect relationship that we all know, like what the variables are, and how it stores your information.”

As TEALS continues bringing industry connections into the classroom, it’s helping Kansas State School for the Blind students help dispel notions.

“People who are visually impaired or legally blind like me, their abilities are downplayed because they are missing, to humans, their most important sense – vision,” added Puett. “My students prove every day, without their vision, that they can do so much. They can type, they can get online. They can read, they cook. Yes, we do burn a few things, but they cook.”

“Our hope is also for the students that use and learn these computer science skills to really think about using these skills to drive change in the world,” Shekhar said.

More than half of the Microsoft TEALS teaching team instructing Kansas State School for the Blind students and teachers identify as blind or low vision themselves.

Click here for more information about the program and ways to sign-up for the course.