Guide

Guide to Coding with a Learning Disability

By Nat Davis
Last updated on January 18, 2023

Having a learning disability doesn’t preclude you from learning how to code or launching your tech career. And considering that 1 in 5 people have learning or attention issues, it’s prudent for bootcamps to support all types of learners. Plus, the more neurodiverse folks work in tech, the more likely the principles of web and design accessibility will spread across tech – and that benefits everyone. In this guide, we break down tech tools that make it easier to learn with disabilities, how neurodiversity creates stronger teams, and how to choose a coding bootcamp that provides support for special needs. 

3 Key Takeaways:

  1. Anyone can work in tech – neurodiversity doesn’t preclude you!
  2. Many coding bootcamps offer student-centered learning and support that may include office hours, teaching assistants (TAs), and mentorship.
  3. Coding bootcamps offer various learning formats, such as immersive, part-time, self-paced, online and in-person. This allows students with learning disabilities to choose the best program for their needs.

There are many ways in which people have difficulties with learning. Some of the most common learning disabilities include: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder (ADP), language processing disorder (LPD), nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD), and visual perceptual disabilities.

Thriving in a Bootcamp Classroom with 7 Common Learning Disabilities

There are specific tech tools available that support individuals with disabilities and neurodiversity, including students with learning disabilities. Instructors and aides can consider utilizing accessibility tools to ease the process of learning how to code at a coding bootcamp as a beginner with a learning disability.

3 Types of Accessibility Tech Tools 

  1. Assistive technology is a technology created to make a task easier, such as a screen reader on a computer for someone with a visual disability. 
  2. Accessible technology is a technology intended for many different users that offers built-in customization to individualize their experience. 
  3. Equitable AI are technologies intentionally designed, developed, and implemented by humans for a more equitable outcome for everyone, including those with disabilities. 

Here are a few examples of accessibility tech tools and processes that can be used to adapt to your needs:

  • For those with dyslexia who have difficulty reading, it might be helpful to use a voice output, ask someone to read to you, ask for oral instructions instead of written, use a reading machine, and utilize other visual aids like diagrams and flowcharts. 
  • Since handwriting is difficult for individuals with dysgraphia, coding may be an apt skill to learn, since writing is done on a computer. Some adults with dysgraphia benefit from verbal brainstorming sessions rather than filling out boxes and bubbles on a worksheet. It’s also recommended to work in drafts and come back to an assignment later. 
  • Since dyscalculia affects math skills, consider that some tech careers like data analysts and data scientists require skills in math and statistics and may be difficult to pursue without supportive resources. Some tips for adult learners with dyscalculia: Tell your instructor so they can support you, use a calculator, and try multi-sensory approaches like writing or saying aloud math equations.
  • For those with auditory processing disorder (APD), support like electronic devices can assist with listening. Instructors can offer alternatives to the delivery of information.  
  • Since those with language processing disorders (LPD) have trouble understanding others and expressing themselves, accommodations could include: asking for a demonstration of the task, repeat back what you understand and ask for confirmation and feedback, and develop a system of categorization to understand functions.  
  • Individuals with nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) often have a well-developed vocabulary and strength in reading recognition and rote language skills, so memorization may be an effective learning tool for people with NVLD
  • For those with visual processing disorder (VPD), accommodations can be made such as large print, different paper types, and alternate writing assignments like dictation instead of writing. 

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Coding Bootcamp for You 

There are so many coding bootcamps and it can feel difficult to know how to choose the right coding bootcamp for you. Here are 5 tips on how to learn how to code for beginners with learning disabilities: 

1. Take into consideration how much you already know about coding. If you are a complete beginner, it might be helpful to learn some coding basics before enrolling in a coding bootcamp. Plus, there are tons of free coding resources for beginners! Having the basics down can ease the learning curve when improving oneself in an accelerated learning program such as a coding bootcamp. 

  • Understanding HTML will be crucial for any software developer and will be imperative to know when developing with accessibility in mind
  • Take a look at CSS and JavaScript, two other essential coding languages that influence the visual experience and interactivity of a website.

If these three languages appeal to you, a coding bootcamp is a great place to dive deep into their foundations!

2. Determine your specific learning needs and what resources are available to support you.

3. Consider what bootcamp format that will work best for you: part-time, full-time, self-paced, in-person, online? Amanda, an Academic Accommodations and Accessibility Specialist at Lighthouse Labs, points out, “Our bootcamps can be an excellent option for people who may otherwise struggle in a traditional classroom setting. A remote learning experience allows students to control their environment and work from a comfortable space, which is an essential foundation for effective learning. Students also have autonomy over scheduling breaks between assignments which is helpful for those who hyperfocus and those who like to break up work sessions into shorter time segments.”

4. Enroll in a coding bootcamp that will work with you to support your success. When talking to admissions reps from different coding bootcamps, ask about the resources and accommodations they offer and/or are willing to make.

5. Look for scholarships and vocational rehabilitation agencies, such as this program offered through Tech Elevator, that support individuals with disabilities to meet their employment needs, including training as continuing education. 

The Importance of Web Accessibility for Now & Future Coders 

The Web is accessible when browsers, authorizing tools, and websites work together. Amanda from Lighthouse Labs says, “People with disabilities are underrepresented within the tech industry, and yet we know that organizations are stronger when they employ people from diverse backgrounds, with varied experiences. Supporting students with diverse learning needs in getting into the tech sector can spark new innovations and create opportunities for people in a sector that is well-positioned to address accessibility challenges through the vast number of tools available.” 

Web accessibility also offers its own career path. After graduating from LearningFuze, Alicia went on to work as a Web Accessibility Engineer. Practicum graduate Desiree is new to her tech career but already learning web accessibility skills to add to her toolbox. 

Alicia chronicles her journey into this field, “Web accessibility has been around for more than 20 years, but people are now starting to prioritize its importance. Working in this field today promises job security and the ability to negotiate offers, since the demand has increased but the amount of accessibility professionals hasn't. Once you get your foot in the door, the world is open to you. When I decided to look for another job, I applied for two to see what it was like out there, and I got immediate callbacks. As an Accessibility Engineer, I'm earning three times the salary that I made before I was a software developer!” 

Resources

Here’s a roundup of organizations dedicated to offering support to individuals with learning disabilities in the tech space:

Have you attended a bootcamp as a neurodiverse learner? Share your tips in the comments below!

About The Author

Nat has been a writer and copyeditor for Course Report since 2020, on topics including guides to bootcamps, tech skills, and career outcomes. Nat leverages their own experience in online learning to relate to readers considering alternative learning paths. 

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