Making Cybersecurity Accessible: Designing Cyber Camps for Students with Disabilities

Making Cybersecurity Accessible: Designing Cyber Camps for Students with Disabilities

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By Dr. Chuck Gardner, Director of Curriculum, CYBER.ORG

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Credit: DBVI
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Expanding access to K-12 cybersecurity education for all learners, regardless of background or ability, is critically important as the nation faces a shortage of nearly 464K cybersecurity professionals. It has never been more important than now to introduce all students to the cybersecurity concepts and the possibility of cybersecurity careers, and at CYBER.ORG, we have made it our mission to do just that.

To make cybersecurity curriculum fully accessible to all students, we pioneered a series of camps to introduce students with disabilities – particularly those who are blind and vision impaired – to key cybersecurity topics and help develop their cybersecurity skills. In collaboration with our key partner at the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI), we designed accessible curriculum to help visually impaired individuals learn the basics of cybersecurity and build confidence in the field.

Through this effort, we created hands-on opportunities for career exploration in STEM through nonvisual curriculum for concepts like coding and best practices for cyber safety. Diversity of enrollment of camp participants was built in from the start to encourage participation and ensure the curriculum was accessible to a variety of students, including those with secondary disabilities and no prior computer or technology experience or technical backgrounds.

In collaboration with DBVI, we developed a Robotics and Cyber Academy, where students learned about basic coding skills, bot assembly, circuit construction, and best practices for cyber safety and applications. The Academy also allowed students to interact with cyber professionals during a lunchtime Q&A session to share the many career pathways and opportunities within the IT sector. First piloted in 2017, the program has been tremendously successful in helping students realize the possibility of pursuing careers in cybersecurity, as 94% of students who participated plan to study cybersecurity in a 2 or 4-year college, pursue credential training or go directly into the cybersecurity workforce.

The success we experienced with this program inspired us to develop another opportunity to engage with even more students – a Linux camp dedicated to teaching students how networks and web servers operate, the structure of computer networks, how to set up a server, and how to investigate whether websites are 508 compliant, in addition to other topics. The camp took place in Richmond in June of 2021. While the take home component of the robotics camp was the bot, for the Linux camp, students developed their own 508-compliant websites that were live on a public domain.

As an organization, we’re continually looking for opportunities to increase access to cybersecurity curriculum for all students, and particularly for students with disabilities. By building confidence and a skillset in cybersecurity, students can not only imagine a career in the cybersecurity field but also kickstart their professional careers. We are looking to work with organizations to introduce the next generation of professionals to the cybersecurity industry and look forward to expanding our accessible curriculum to reach all students.

We encourage other state agencies and Departments of Education to reach out if you are interested in setting up a cyber camp or have questions on how to develop accessible cybersecurity curriculum. Please reach out to us at info@cyber.org.

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