Whether you’re already interested in the computer coding field – creating websites and apps – or are considering a career move, there are some wise ways to set yourself apart from other applicants. To support blind and low-vison youth learning more about computer science as a career path, the APH ConnectCenter and California College for the Blind are co-hosting the free, virtual 2021 National Coding Symposium for students May 11-14 (details below).
Coding is an extremely viable career path for people who are visually impaired, because coding is very much text-based, says Enjie Hall, Director of Campus Accessibility and Student Disability Services at Ohio’s University of Toledo.
“When you look at a string of symbols, that is coding that then translates into developing software and programs,” she explains. “Because it’s text-based, people who are visually impaired can use the same tools they use to interact with other text to learn about and work in computer coding.”
The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you’re proficient with assistive technology, such as ZoomText, JAWS or a braille display. According to Enjie, those skills provide access that levels the playing field.
Consider your knowledge base – and expand it if necessary
If you took a lot of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes in middle school, high school or college, that’s a great foundation. But if you didn’t, it’s never too late to learn. Find out if a local university or community college offers computer science degrees or individual courses in the sciences, such as computer coding, engineering and even physics, as well as math courses like algebra, geometry or trigonometry. These might even be available as continuing education classes. Enjie says an area Commission for the Blind, Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired or Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (some states may use different terminology) can be a resource for information about courses like these.
These organizations may also be able to connect you with a mentor who is visually impaired and already working in the field. Learning from a mentor can not only expand your understanding of your career options, but can also give you a sense of whether coding might be the right fit for you.
If you already know how to code, creating computer programs in your spare time can be one way to build up your resume. It gives you something to show potential employers if you don’t already have a professional portfolio in the field.
APH also offers a variety of products and online trainings designed to teach students about coding, which might be equally valuable to job-seekers considering a career change.
Make the right impression during the interview
Many job-seekers don’t necessarily disclose their visual impairment in a cover letter, but Enjie recommends bringing it up in the first 90 seconds of an interview. Otherwise, she says, it’s going to be the elephant in the room.
“Put the emphasis on the positive,” Enjie suggests. “Say things like, ‘My visual impairment has allowed me to be innovative, I am a great problem solver – whatever that looks like for you, start there.”
Also be clear about how you use assistive technology and what kinds of accommodations you may need, which are relatively simple. But if an employer hasn’t hired someone who is visually impaired before, you may need to educate them.
Of course, if you’re already working in the field and have a resume from a current or prior job, that’s ideal. “That shows that another employer has made it work,” Enjie says. “So the person you’re interviewing with might think, ‘Well, somebody else made it work so I can make it work, too.’”
APH ConnectCenter and California College for the Blind are co-hosting the virtual 2021 National Coding Symposium for students May 11-14. Job-seekers may also find the speakers and presentations helpful. Plus, it’s free! Enjie will be part of a Q&A session on what it takes to get a job in coding. Other visually impaired presenters and advocates will share valuable information about working in the field. Learn more and register at APH’s website.