Open Questions in the Accessibility of Programming with Vision Impairments

Updated: 2022-09-09

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog my student and I are working on new development tools for people with vision impairments. One thing we found ourselves asking is what are the open questions in this area, and what has already been done? Luckily, Mountapmbeme et al. have written a really great literature review:

Aboubakar Mountapmbeme, Obianuju Okafor, and Stephanie Ludi. 2022.
  "Addressing Accessibility Barriers in Programming for People with
  Visual Impairments: A Literature Review." ACM Trans. Access. Comput.
  15, 1, Article 7 (March 2022), 26 pages. doi: 10.1145/3507469

Find it here: Mountapmbeme et. al. 2022

The purpose of this post is to be a short note that really just extracts these questions out of the literature review. I’m going to break up the set of questions into two sets: replication questions and new research questions.

Replication Questions

These are questions that can be found in existing studies, but that could be replicated due to them being more than two years old, not having a diverse population, etc.

  1. Difficulty finding information within a code base without losing position of focus.

  2. Difficulty quickly returning to a previous focal point when reviewing code or seeking information at another location or file in a large code base. This is known as backtracking.

  3. How often do programmers use keyword search within their existing development tools to find information?

  4. How often do programmers enter information at incorrect or unintended locations due to loosing track of their focal point?

  5. Navigation in to and out of nested structures can be challenging for blind programmers.

  6. Blind programmers focus on types and return to re-read types more often than the method bodies.

  7. Blind programmers focus less on method invocations to comprehend code.

New Research Questions

  1. How popular are braille displays among programmers? In addition, how common is it for programmers to combine braille displays with screen readers?

  2. Challenges associated with code debugging or the process of finding errors in source code needs to be studied.

  3. Accessible debugging tools need to be investigated.

  4. Code editing by people with visual impairments needs to be investigated; most prefer out-of-context editing rather than editing in place.

  5. Code skimming is understudied, and is usually lumped together into code navigation, but a proper focused study needs to be done.

  6. We need to better understand how people with vision impariments debug code, and the challenges they experience.

  7. The tools and toolkits we develop need to be more reachable and marketed better so they are actually used by real people.

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