I am a proponent of people learning to code even those working in fields outside of technology. As we continue to add more and more technology to our lives, the ability to code will allow people to personalize their experience as well as continue to improve how the technology is used in their life. There are two incorrect views that hold people back from learning to code; one is many people don’t feel they are capable and, two, they don’t see a purpose with it beyond curiosity or intrigue.
Around 10 years ago, I volunteered weekly in an inclusive classroom at the Hope Technology School. I did not grow up with many experiences with those with special needs. My eyes were opened and grew to enjoy building friendship with the kids and teachers. I was amazed at how the kids interacted with each other and the breakthroughs made for those with special needs.
The culture at the school was one of innovation which I have always thrived on, having worked in tech at a couple of start-ups as a chemical engineer. I noticed many of the tools that the kids in the classroom used were considered “high tech” but still seemed to be lacking. As I looked further, I began noticing most software products were hard to use, were not of high quality and expensive.
After talking with a friend about it, we decided to try to do something ourselves that could really change these kids’ lives. I did not know how to code at the time, but we were determined to try to make a difference.
Since we did not know how to code, we decided to invite some developer friends to help us get started. We stocked up on burritos, chips, and soda and invited them for the day to make something happen. Being around the developers, watching what they do and how they approached our project inspired taught me how to think. I began to believe it would be possible to quickly build something that could help a lot of people. After a long day of coding, we had successfully built a functioning app that just needed a little polishing.
A month or so and countless tweaks later, we released our first version of Quick Talk AAC. We received many exciting and positive responses from our efforts as it was one of the first of its kind available on Android. It was very rewarding receiving emails from around the world from families who the app was helping. We took that as a sign that we need to keep going and have since revamped the app for both Android and iOS.
As we continue to develop our apps, challenges arise and we find ways to tackle them. StackOverflow has become my best friend as well as various tutorial blogs as we made these tweaks and added more features. There are countless tools to help the aspiring develop learn if you are determined to look . When you have a specific mission to help, it inspires you to learn and solve the issues as they come.
Part of the challenge in developing for those with special needs is the great diversity in needs and preferences. If it was possible, I could imagine every person having a specific app for them to help them with their specific needs. Because this is not feasible, we need to make these apps as flexible as possible, which takes planning and know-how. However, I can imagine a world where everyone could build an app for themselves or those close to them because they have ventured off to learn to code.