Programming blind? We see no problem there

01.08.2022 | Company

At first glance, Martin's workplace doesn't look very different from those of other colleagues. A desk, an office chair, a laptop - that's about it. But a closer look reveals that there are no additional screens or a mouse. And if you watch Martin at work for a while, it quickly becomes clear that he works differently than the other colleagues. Because Martin is blind.

When the sighted colleagues program applications, they use an integrated development environment. They constantly switch back and forth between several open windows on their screens, compare or click buttons to compile. For Martin, this very visual way of working doesn't work. His headphones are his screen. For this, he uses so-called screen reader programs that recognize text within images and read the information to him. "Basically, my first programming skills were based on rewriting screen reader programs for my purposes. I was forced to customize them to my needs, so that they read aloud only what was interesting to me, for example." Martin, on the other hand, does not usually use a Braille display, an output device that translates digitized text into Braille and functions like a tactile keyboard. This is partly because he was not born blind and only had to painstakingly learn Braille as an adult. When Martin develops, he moves around on the command line and writes scripts that are composed of individual command line commands. But this requires a certain mental model, because he simply has to know certain contexts. Thus it needs at the beginning possibly somewhat longer, in order to learn the code. Once the code is internalized, however, he is often even faster with commands than his sighted colleagues.

Martin has been with us for over two years now as an application developer. He works in the web area and takes care of deployment or automation processes and the containerization of applications, among other things. At that time, the contact was established through a personnel consulting firm specializing in IT professionals. Because of his disability, the job search initially proved to be not so easy for the trained developer. And this despite the fact that he had been programming himself since 1997 and could look back on many years of professional experience even before his training. Even for managing director Jürgen Bucher, the agency's request came as a surprise at first: "A code can consist of complex structures and many programs are graphically structured. Martin, on the other hand, has to have it all read out to him and keep it in his memory. At first, I actually had a hard time imagining that. But we just tried it out!" With success, because Martin has long since joined the team and performs his tasks just like any other developer, but in a different way.

Martin sees himself as a mediator between the worlds and hopes that more companies will dare to employ employees with disabilities: "Often, the hurdles are not as high as many fear. My screen readers, for example, are all open source programs; I don't need any other aids." At many companies, however, he says, internal policies are so strict that often only certain programs may be used and no exceptions are granted. For Martin, it is therefore important to talk much more about accessibility, rather than participation. Companies should ask themselves the question, "How do I make it possible for someone to use their skills?" Martin is a trained professional with the same skills as a sighted application developer, but he is blind.


Picture credits: © Bucher Group

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