People with disabilities have limited opportunities for social interaction. There are organizations out there to get them out, but few ways to hear about them. In the twenty first century social media platforms have taken off. Why don't we have one for people with disabilities? Mainstream social media holds too many threats for safe connections and relationships.
In 2010, “2.8 million (5.2 percent) school aged children (ages 5-17) in the US were reported to have a disability"(https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acsbr10-12.pdf)
“According to Dr. Margalit, children with LD have personal characteristics that not only increase the likelihood that they will be lonely, but may also make it more difficult for them to cope with the feelings that accompany loneliness.1 Kids with LD who experience loneliness, she points out, often have real social difficulties, which can result in a poor social network, low social status, and rejection by other kids.” (http://www.greatschools.org/…/loneliness-among-children-wi…/)
How might we find ways to increase the social interaction between people with special needs online?
Connect Me, the FIRST social media platform designed for people with disabilities. With a required background check upon sign up, the site proves to be safer than that of mainstream sites. After initial sign up, Connect Me asks the user what hobbies/ activities they enjoy participating in. Then, the site will suggest local organizations close to the user that host or participate in them. Connect Me still functions as a platform to post photos, statuses, and share videos with friends and family.
Reason for solving the problem:
My beautiful 22 year old brother, Gabriel was born with autism as well as cerebral palsy. Growing up, I have first hand witnessed the lack of interaction with others that occurs for kids with disabilities. Although he has issues, along with many others like him, he is still skilled in reading and typing on a computer. We realized Facebook wasn't a safe place for him to try and make friends, because of how open it is and easy to target people. I'm determined to find a way for safe online social communication.
This is where Connect Me can help!!
Here's the journey in making this a reality:
To understand who I was designing for more, I set up a variety of interviews / observations in local schools around my community. This included Mt. Side Middle School, Meadowridge Elementary School, and Mt. Spokane High School in their special ed departments. I also sat in on an activity night put on by local organization Project ID.
Sitting in on Mrs. Murray's special ed class
There are a variety of different levels of any given disability. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. From online research, it seems that most allow the person to still want to have relationships and social interaction with others.
Who I'm Interviewing in the community:
- Martha Murray who is a special ed teacher at Mt. Side. I am going to observe her cooking and PE classes. Cooking is at 10 and PE is at 12. This will happen tomorrow, Wednesday December 7th.
- Jocelyn Merhab who is a resource teacher at Mt Spokane High School. I will meet with her during her second period which is her prep. This goes from 9:10- 10. Then I hope to observe part of her third period. We are meeting Thursday December 15th.
- Sonja Svennungsen who is a resource teacher at Meadowridge Elementary school. I will be sitting in on her class for an hour.
What will I ask them?
For each of the teachers I interview I want to first ask them what brought them to be teaching what they do. I’m going to ask why they decided to work with special ed kids. What has working with these kids taught them? Has working with these kids changed the way they approach teaching as a whole? Do they see kids having a hard time socially connecting with one another?
Observation at Meadowridge
After the three interviews and observations I had I was able to pull together two themes that I feel represent what I learned through each individual experience I had. These themes are:
1) People with disabilities love having fun.
2) As they get older, there are not as many opportunities for people with special needs to get connected. The options that are out there are not always advertised so that the user know's about them.
1) Human-beings seek to be valued.
2) Human-beings seek social connections with others
1) Safe version of facebook or a website
2) Social media platform that shows what's going on in the community
3) Way for students to get involved with those that have disabilities outside of class
4) Social media site that performs background checks
5) Social media site that has people monitoring
6) Program where people can volunteer to take them places and hangout with other people
While putting ideas together, Connect Me was created!
Storyboard of Connect Me interaction
I would define success as creating a service that is well used and one that actually benefits people. If I can create partnerships with local organizations I will be very happy. My main goal is just to find a way to bring people with disabilities together and get them more socially involved.
Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Merhab have both gotten back to me. They love the idea and are excited to see where I go with it. Out of the three organizations I contacted: Special Olympics of Washington, Project ID, and The Arc, I have already gotten word from the Special Olympics that they are interested in a possible future membership. They want to speak to me on the phone this upcoming week and learn more... very exciting!
Business Model Canvas
Ways to grow framework:
(Script for video below)
Connect Me is the first social media site of it’s kind to be designed for people with disabilities. It resembles Facebook, in that users must sign up to create an account before they can post statuses, pictures, and share with friends. It differs in that a background check is required upon sign up. Having increased security prevents predators to target and hurt users. When signing up, the site will ask what hobbies and activities the user enjoys participating in. Then, Connect Me will suggest friends in that area with those similar interests. The goal of this is to engage less socially prone people to interact with one another. Local organizations and clubs for people with disabilities can also choose to join and connect with users and let them know when and where activities are. Individuals seeking volunteer hours can sign up and connect with a user and family, having the opportunity to befriend the user and hangout with them. Life long friendships have the potential of coming out of this option, meaning the world to both parties.
Im Cierra, a senior at Riverpoint Academy. The school that truly does ignite passion, and produce innovators. I would have never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to create a business of my own, about something that I care so deeply for. I truly feel that Connect Me has the potential to change lives, and that I'm called to make it happen.