How and why we are creating new opportunities for all children to communicate and express themselves better

“Inclusion elevates all” – Elaine Hall, founder @ The Miracle Project

About four months after launching Tapkins, I received a pleasant text from a cousin living in Australia. She thanked me in her message. She said that our app had made her little niece, who has Autism, very happy and playing it had given her a real sense of achievement.

This was a pivotal moment for me and the team.

It was around the same time that I had presented our app to a series of post-graduate classes in the National Institute of Education at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. Many of the students were existing educators in Singapore and had come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences i.e. language teachers, special needs, administrative, occupational and speech therapists etc. We spoke about language learning methodologies, bilingualism, accessibility, technology, personalised learning, motivation and many other topics.

The one thing that was clear is that these educators were receptive to technology in education. More importantly, these discussions had given me a greater sense of conviction about the role of technology in bringing greater inclusivity in education globally.

Vision versus what the market wants

When we started this project, it was clear that our goal was to provide parents with an additional tool to guide and support their children in their early journey of digital literacy. As co-founders of this company (and as parents), we agreed that technology and the internet has changed the way we work, communicate and live today. Our young children now access information, learn, communicate and socialise through digital and connected channels.

Parents need to understand the importance of empowering their children with the technical know-how and responsible digital competencies so they may thrive safely and effectively in the new digital world. We felt that we could be part of this journey by introducing early digital communication concepts, in particular via mobile typing and basics of keyboarding.

We started building our product mid last year. By Christmas 2017, we had hacked together and released the first free version of our app. We wanted to quickly test and gather what parents, teachers and our young users felt. The initial response and feedback we received from our early users were not entirely positive but it was very valuable. Over the next few months, we actively incorporated the feedback and continued on this course of improvement.

It wouldn’t be until I had the opportunity to meet an experienced special needs teacher that I realised we would need to substantially change our app if we wanted to make it truly more inclusive.

Understanding inclusivity and accepting limitations of technology

My conversation with a senior early intervention teacher at Singapore based non-profit Fei Yue had given me an honest and real perspective of the special needs community in Singapore. Over coffee, she shared optimistic comments about the potential usefulness of our app for some of her clients and less so for others. As we spoke, it became apparent that though technology may be a liberating force for some segments of the special needs community it was not the universal saviour which I had thought it would be.

In the current era of automation and economic domination of software companies like Google and Facebook, it’s easy for people working in technology to have an arrogant and misplaced confidence in software solving great world problems. My encounter with the teacher from Fei Yue had confirmed my ignorance. The truth is the role of human intervention in education and therapy is now as important than ever. The technological advancements of today really mean that parents and teachers can bring about greater outcomes if they use technology selectively and purposefully.

I’m lucky that she saw beyond my lack of understanding in this space and believed that I genuinely wanted to make a better product. I’m incredibly thankful that after our conversation, she still introduced me to the renowned Assistive Technology (AT) team at SPD Singapore.

One thing leading to another

I met the Assistive Technology (AT) team of the SPD at the Tech Able Centre. The centre is located at the Enabling Village, a commendable and beautiful space in central Singapore dedicated to “a collective of individuals and organisations that serve–and are supported by– people with diverse abilities”. I had visited the Tech Able centre after reaching out and was thoroughly impressed by the dedication of the people running it.

My meeting with the AT team at SPD was eye-opening and awe-inspiring. The people I met were amazing “hackers” in their own right. They were the team responsible for prescribing (more than often custom) technological solutions for people with special needs and disabilities. Their knowledge of technology application in the space is both wide and deep. Their feedback on our app was extremely useful and has given us a greater sense of purpose by showing how technology if properly used can truly enhance lives of people in all circumstances.

Since then, we’ve been introduced to social service organisation AWWA and the Dyslexia Associate of Singapore (DAS). We have already started to engage the APSN (Association of Persons with Special Needs). It is our hope that with further interaction with the practicing experts in the industry and parents that we can create a more inclusive version of our product.

We have already started development work and I will share more about our product journey moving forward.

I will update you guys again soon. Thank you for your support!