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The ability to tell what is a true 911 emergency is second nature to most of us.  However, this may not be an easy task for children with special needs to know the difference. In a life and death situation, these children need this life skill in order to handle the situation within seconds.  However, very few resources or solutions are currently available to help these children. 

When looking for a science project topic for the school’s annual Stem Fair, with the theme of “Wonder”, three elementary school girls, Lily Liu, Maggie Liu, and Julia Nigro, from New Providence Salt Brook Elementary School decided this was a topic they wanted to explore further.   

The girls learned about this difficult challenge for people with special needs from principal Mr. Jason Killian, and his supportive administration from ECLC (Education, Careers & Lifelong Community) when they visited the school.  The school has an amazingly long history of helping thousands of children and adults with special needs to develop important life skills to thrive in the real world after graduation.  Mr. Killian and his team welcomed the girls with open arms, took them around the historical school facility to meet friendly teachers and students, shared stories of successes and challenges, and encouraged them to use science and technology to help kids with special needs.      

Thoroughly inspired by what they learned, the girls started discussing on what they can do to help as they walked out into the ECLC parking lot.  Seeing many ECLC children carrying iPads, Maggie Liu proposed to create a new training APP on iPad to help them be able to distinguish what is a true emergency situation vs. not. 

They all loved this idea and immediately put it into action.

After a month of brainstorm sessions, several online app training courses, and many late nights of coding and programming, a free iPad training App “Emergency Or Not”, was born.  The APP has two parts: A flashcard training section and a quiz section to test knowledge on what is a true emergency.

“I WONDER if this APP can truly help kids?” 

When the girls asked, ECLC immediately opened their doors for them to do real testing with children in aftercare.   

The first round of user-testing discovered some areas for improvement.  Many children lost focus on the flashcard training quickly and some said the flashcards flipped too quickly.  A few said it was too hard to hear or the test was too difficult. Finally, some simply did not know what the word “flashcard” meant.

Undeterred, the girls developed solutions within the next two weeks.  Julia suggested using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and demonstrated effective ways to communicate with children with special needs.  As a result, they added new icons in the APP next to the words to help increase comprehension.  They added vocalization of these words in the test and flashcards, with volume maximized for those with hearing impaired.  They also added a slider to let these kids/caregivers choose the number of random flashcards to be trained on.  They slowed down the speed of the flash card flipping. 

In the next testing session, the girls were very encouraged by the difference this training APP can make.  One girl in the aftercare danced to the music of the APP.  Another one said he will recommend his friend to play this fun “video game” with him.  Another liked the app so much that he sneaked in to do the training twice.  It is quite noticeable that most children choose 3-8 flashcards to learn each session to fit their respective attention span.  This time, they found 90% improved the testing scores and all felt this APP helpful for them to learn what is a true emergency situation. 

In the Salt Brook Science Fair, the girls’ science project caught the eyes of many.  From the positive feedback they received, they are hoping to be given more opportunities from schools with children with special needs. This will allow them to conduct more testing and find new ways to improve this app. 

The APP can be downloaded for free in the APP Store at https://bit.ly/emergency-or-not   

If you are a school or a caregiver of a person with special needs, we ask you give this APP a try.  If you have questions and or suggestions for further improvements, please reach out to us at Sherry@hanwave.net.