Tactile Code Skimmer: A Tool to Help Blind Programmers Feel the Structure of Code

Overview of the TCS. On the left a figure showing indented lines of code and in the middle the TCS with tactile markers are arranged to represent the code indentation tactually. On the right a picture of a user using the device to skim code on a laptop.

Indented code (lef), its representation on the Tactile Code Skimmer (middle), and a participant interacting with TCS (right).

Skimming new code with a screen reader can be a time-consuming task for blind and visually impaired programmers. Screen readers aid with code navigation, but dictate code line-by-line and read spaces and tabs individually. This often provides more information than is needed.

In this work, we present the Tactile Code Skimmer (TCS), a tool to aid blind and visually impaired programmers with skimming code. The device physically reflects the indentation levels of code with actuated slide potentiometers, thus helping reduce the ‘hearing load’ that often accompanies screen readers. We describe the TCS design and implementation. Based on feedback from participants obtained through demos and an in-depth session, we discuss some considerations for tactile tools that aid with code skimming.