If you’ve asked your phone’s voice recognition technology what the weather is, shared a photo of your lunch on social media, or stopped your car at a traffic light on your evening commute, you’ve been helped by coding.
The computer language used to develop apps, websites and software not only affects our daily lives, it can be a tool to change our world for the better.
That’s something 11-year-old Anna Miller, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), is well aware of. The genetic disorder causes her bones to break easily and means she uses forearm crutches or a wheelchair to get around. It’s also motivated the sixth grader to want to use her love of coding to invent an app that would make it easier for others with limited mobility to find accessible entrances to public spaces.
Anna has first-hand experience with accessibility challenges. When she visits a mall or museum, she and her mom often have to circle the building to locate a wheelchair ramp. Poorly placed or non-existent accessible entrances create potentially hazardous inconveniences for Anna on a daily basis, and it’s a problem she wants to help solve for herself and others.
Anna wants to code an app that allows the user to input a location and then see on a map where all the accessible entrances are located, where the best place to park is based on those locations, and even where the most accessible bathrooms are once inside.
While a broken arm or leg has never stopped Anna from pursuing her goals (and she has many!), she is used to having people underestimate her abilities.
“A lot of people think that because I’m small, young and use a wheelchair that I can’t code, or I can’t do anything else,” she says. “But really, coding has proven to them that I can do whatever I want.”
Anna first discovered coding when she enrolled in a summer technology program at Maryland’s Digital Harbor Foundation, a non-profit that promotes innovation, tech advancement and entrepreneurship for youth. She’s enthusiastically pursued it ever since.
Her passion for coding comes from its ability to create equity in an often-unequitable world. Anna believes it’s a useful skill that anyone can pick up, as coding doesn’t require specific talents or experience, just a desire to learn. She loves that it can bring people together to creatively solve the world’s problems.
She thinks that by sharing ideas and working together to push social boundaries, coders can better understand the experiences of others and move society forward.
As with picking up any new skill, Anna ran into a few challenges as she worked to develop her coding expertise. Not one to be easily discouraged, she saw each setback as a learning experience.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl, or whether you use a wheelchair or come from a different background, because anyone can code,” she says. “If we work together as a community, we can all code together and build something that might just change the world.”
To get other kids excited about coding, Anna led a Coding with Minecraft class at the Digital Harbor Foundation, the very place where she discovered her passion. She was overjoyed to see her fellow students laughing and interacting with one another as they worked. The experience helped further her belief that coding is a collaborative skill that anyone can learn.
Beyond developing her app, Anna isn’t yet sure what the future holds for her. But she has big dreams. She wants to become a computer scientist, writer, artist and photographer.
No matter what she decides to be in the future, Anna’s digital skills will help prepare her for success.
“If I can express my ideas to the world, then I have a better future,” she says. “And, I know that if other young people start coding with me, then it will be a better world than what we started out with.”
To learn more about Anna’s journey, watch WE Day, August 9, 2019 at 8/7c on ABC.
Together with partners like Microsoft, WE is empowering youth to create a more inclusive world.
Zoe Demarco is a writer and production manager for WE Stories. A third generation journalist, she has a natural curiosity for other people’s lives.