Resolution 2018-01 On the Accessibility of LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Robots and LEGO®MINDSTORMS® Challenges

WHEREAS, a desire to explore the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is not limited to sighted students; and

WHEREAS, organizations such as First® LEGO® League, “challenges kids to think like scientists and engineers,” and solve real-world problems while learning how to build and program autonomous robots; and

WHEREAS, one of the core principles espoused by First® for their competitions is that of inclusion, “we respect each other an embrace our differences,”; and

WHEREAS, presently, neither the software provided by LEGO® for programming, nor the interface to the MINDSTORMS® robot controller include any accessibility features or support for third party screen access technologies; and

WHEREAS, alternative firmware developed by a team working with Andreas Stefik which enables the Quorum programming language to run on the LEGO® EV3 brick does provide an accessible path for blind students to participate in First® LEGO® challenges; and

WHEREAS, this firmware requires approximately fifteen seconds to load before the MINDSTORMS® robot can begin executing instructions, and the native LEGO® MINDSTORMS® firmware requires no appreciable boot time; and

WHEREAS, blind students from the Maryland School for the Blind have been participating in First® LEGO® League competitions since 2012, facing various accessibility barriers over the years, and since 2017 formed not just one, but two teams eager to enter First® LEGO® challenges, clearly demonstrating that blind students want to engage in these challenges; and

WHEREAS, without allowances for the extra boot time the alternative firmware requires, these teams are unfairly penalized for utilizing a tool necessary for them to program their robot; and

WHEREAS, at least one individual has attempted to produce a tactile version of the mat on which MINDSTORMS® execute their missions during First® LEGO® challenges and this individual has met with resistance from either First® or the LEGO® group who first gave, then retracted, their permission to reproduce their artwork on a tactile mat; and

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is the largest consumer organization of blind people in the state of Maryland which, for more than fifty years, has worked to increase educational opportunities and access to STEM subjects and careers,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in convention assembled this 10th day of November, 2018 in the city of Ocean City Maryland, that this organization call on the LEGO® Group to engage with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, LEGO® competition teams having blind persons as members such as those at the Maryland School for the Blind, Andreas Stefik, and others interested in providing an accessible LEGO® MINDSTORMS® experience to develop and implement full accessibility for the MINDSTORMS® programming software, EV3 (and all future control) brick user interfaces, and any related software or hardware necessary to program and operate  LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robots; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization encourage First®, until such time that the MINDSTORMS® software and control hardware is fully accessible to all, to allow any team who so chooses, the opportunity to utilize the Quorum programming language and Lejos alternative firmware so as not to create a segregated environment for teams where blind students participate; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization call upon First® to ensure that competition rules are structured in such a way that teams using the Lejos firmware on the control brick do not incur a time, or other penalty, due to the length of time required for the alternative firmware to boot; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization call upon First® to ensure that all documentation provided to challenge participants, coaches, and other involved person, be provided in formats that are accessible to blind participants; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization encourage the LEGO® Group to work with entities who wish to develop tactile representation of the mats used for executing robotic challenges during competition, so these entities do not have to negotiate complex copyright agreements.