Empower Mats.

Empower Mats: Facilitating the participation of blind or visually impaired students in competitive robotics programs.

See the current Empower Mats Products. CLICK HERE. Help your visually impaired and blind student succeed in competitive robotics programs.

The following areas are being addressed as part of the project. The overall goal is to make competitive robotics and related pursuits accessible to blind and visually impaired students.

1. Competition Mats and Similar Smooth Surface Elements

The Problem

Nearly all robotics programs use mats designed solely for sighted students and instructors. Students with vision deficiencies require verbal instructions and other assistance to navigate the surface.

Proposed Solutions

We are experimenting with modifying several existing technologies to create mats with accessible, tactile surfaces. The focus is on producing subtle surface markers combined with braille symbols that blind or visually impaired students can identify. We want to make robots as easy to use for sight-impaired individuals as for the general population.

Current Results

Our first prototype mat is was completed the week of Oct 10, 2018 and meet all our criteria. The students at the Maryland School for the Blind evaluated it and made a number of recommendations.

Our second generation mat was tested on Oct 27, 2018. The students were stunned at the access they had to the challenge. A blind NASA engineer was at the meeting as well. The STEM Director at the school said, "The kids were in absolute shock at all of the accessibility and realizing that people like D_ are at NASA. Today was priceless!"

2. Programming Software

The Problem

Most youth robotics programming environments cannot be used with existing tools for blind or sight-impaired students. Students must rely on sighted staff and coaches to do the programming for them. This of course greatly diminishes the students’ learning process.

Proposed Solutions

We are working closely with Quorum Software, an accessible, self-voicing, environment. Blind or visually impaired students can program the robot with this tool. See more at Quorum Software and Quorum Sample Code and Demos.

Current Results

We have been granted permission to use the Quorum software in Maryland's 2018-19 FIRST LEGO League program. Teams from surrounding states have expressed interest in competing in Maryland this year.

On Oct 27, 2018, Lila visited with the students and answered questions about Quorum. A number of the students had downloaded her sample code and had closely analyzed it.

3. Rules and Instructions

The Problem

Most rules are either published on complex websites or PDFs. In both cases, rarely is the underlying information properly formatted for access by screen readers or for adaptation to braille.

Proposed Solutions

We will develop a set of guidelines for making digital documents accessible or for producing braille-printed rules.

Current Results

We are adapting the rules and documents of the current year's FIRST LEGO League challenge as a development process for our recommendations.

We have prepared a version of our tactile overlay for use in letter size printing on the schools thermal printer.

4. Providing Accessible Competition Areas

The Problem

Very often the setup of the competition tables or related objects is not accessible to students with disabilities. For example, the height of a FIRST LEGO League table makes it inaccessible to young students and students with physical disabilities.

Proposed Solutions

We are investigating affordable adaptations that would lower the tables for easier access.

5. Overall Space and Event Considerations

The Problem

Spaces used for robotics competitions can be unsafe or difficult to navigate for blind and visually impaired students.

Proposed Solutions

We will develop a simple set of guidelines that any organization and implement at little or no cost to safely accommodate the participation of these teams. This could be as easy as placing teams with disabled students at the tables closest to the entrance/exit.

6. Social Considerations

The Problem

It is important to a visually challenged team that their members not be identified as the ”blind team,” but rather compete as equals to the other teams with no special recognition.

Proposed Solutions

We will develop a clear set of guidelines that any organization can implement at little or no cost to enable the participation of these teams in such a way that undue recognition is not given to their differences.

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Empower Mats

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Tools to empower visually impaired students to participate in competitive robotics programs.

Robot Mats

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Build the skills of your current team with our universal training mats. They provide every scenario required to teach all the fundamentals programming and similar robotics systems.

Creative Play Mats

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These amazing mats feature imaginative, play-producing, images designed to provide just enough imagery to spur creativity.

TechBrick Education

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TechBrick is an independent robotics and STEM education program for home-schooled, public, and private school students in Harford, Baltimore, and Cecil counties in Maryland.

This project is being funded through a generous grant from the Vision Advancement Foundation (VAF) of Oklahoma. The VAF exists to provide excellence in eyecare, especially among those with distinctive needs.

FIRST®, the FIRST® logo, FIRST® Robotics Competition, FIRST® Tech Challenge, FIRST® FORWARDSM , RAPID REACTSM, and FREIGHT FRENZYSM are trademarks of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). LEGO®, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks of the LEGO Group. FIRST® LEGO® League, and CARGO CONNECTSM are jointly held trademarks of FIRST and the LEGO Group. neither of which is overseeing, involved with, or responsible for this activity, product, or service.