During my undergraduate years, I changed my major three times, starting with software engineering before switching to information technology, and then falling in love with the field of computational and data sciences. While there are a few key differences between each of the programs I was part of, one thing that remained the same was using the Repl.it IDE web application for completing short programming assignments from my computer or tablet, without having to download additional software or deal with complicated accessibility tools. Here is how I use Repl.it with low vision, in honor of National Computer Science Education Week.
What is Repl.it?
Repl.it is a browser-based IDE that allows users to write code and create programs directly from their browser, without any additional downloads or configurations required. Repl.it can be used on any operating system or internet connected device and allows users to save programs to a free account (which supports up to 500 MB), as well as connect to GitHub and similar platforms. There are several different programming languages supported by Repl.it, and I have personally used it for Python, R, Markdown, Java, LaTex, and Fortran.
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Using Repl.it with large print
Since Repl.it is based in the web browser, keyboard shortcuts like control-+ can magnify text and other display items, as well as support other browser scaling features. Users can also adjust the font size within the Repl.it IDE by going to the Settings menu located in tools and selecting the font size of their choice- I chose the “huge” option and it displays flawlessly on my devices.
Other display settings I have enabled on Repl.it for improved large print readability include:
- Stacked layout
- Soft text wrapping
- Dark mode color scheme with custom colors for text- I use color as a way of labeling information often, so this works well for me, though there are other options that avoid using color as a means of conveying information
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
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Repl.it and screen magnification
When I am writing code, I prefer to use the Docked view for screen magnification apps like Windows Magnifier and Zoom Magnifier, where the magnified image is shown in a fixed location on the screen. The docked lens will follow the cursor and enlarge the text I am writing, which makes it easier for me to view individual lines of code.
With stacked layout interface in the Repl.it IDE, tools like Docs and Settings open up in a new tab area within the console, so that I can navigate between sections more easily. Users can also open additional windows to the left, right, top, or bottom of the screen, or enable a floating window that can be enlarged to a full screen view. In some cases, it may make more sense to use a Lens view for screen magnification, which is a small window that follows the mouse cursor, similar to how a person might hold a handheld magnifying glass.
Unlike some other IDE tools, Repl.it fonts look smooth and do not have any issues with antialiasing or pixels/blurry fonts even at 400% magnification. This makes Repl.it a great tool for taking screenshots of code as well, since the text will be displayed at a high resolution.
Repl.it and screen readers/text-to-speech
Repl.it is focusing on improving their product for screen reader users, as it is currently not fully usable. However, there are still options for using text-to-speech with Repl.it and some screen reader functionality, including options for keyboard access.
If I want to have a line of code read out loud, I typically use the Read Aloud tool built into my web browser or the Speak Text shortcut on my iPad or keyboard, highlighting the text I want to hear out loud. Another option is to use the “Read from Here” option in Windows Magnifier, which will read text from the cursor location.
By default, the Repl.it Console and Shell is not accessible with screen readers, but Repl.it has posted a workaround for enabling screen reader announcements, which I have linked below. I’ve also linked a list of keyboard shortcuts that are helpful for assistive technology users.
- Accessibility Features | Replit Docs
- Working with shortcuts | Replit Docs
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
- Enabling Temporary Accessibility Settings For iPad
Completing programming assignments with Repl.it
When it comes to short programming assignments and coding exercises, I like to do my homework within the Repl.it IDE environment because it is easier for me to enlarge text compared to some of the other IDEs I’ve worked with in the past. I had to get permission from the department chair to use Repl.it instead of another inaccessible IDE for an introductory programming class, but for the most part my professors let students use whatever tools they want for homework. This is great for students who may not want to download additional IDE software (such as those taking a required coding course), or if their computer does not support other IDE programs.
A lot of my homework assignments require students to take screenshots of their code and insert them into a Word document, while other professors require students to submit a copy of their program. Repl.it allows users to download their files in a .zip folder, which can then be uploaded to a course website or submitted for a grade. Students may also choose to share a link to their file from the Repl.it website, but some professors may not allow this since the link would technically be public.
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Other tips for using Repl.it with low vision
- Some users may prefer to access Repl.it on a tablet because a tablet provides a more flexible viewing angle compared to a computer screen
- I prefer to type code on a physical keyboard instead of an on-screen keyboard because I find it easier to do indentations and adjust spacing that way
- Repl.it requires a free account for use, and there is also a free student plan that provides additional features such as private files (Repl.it files are public by default with the traditional free plan). Users can also upgrade to a paid plan that provides access to private files and other features for $7 USD a month