Students take starring roles in new app to help those with special needs

Shropshire students have had starring roles in a new app to help people with learning difficulties and disabilities to understand how to keep safe during the pandemic. 

The young people at the specialist further education college Derwen College in Gobowen near Oswestry supported Starfish Labs in the production of 'Covid-19: Staying Safe’.

The college provided actors for the app, and helped with Makaton signs and symbols to help people with communication difficulties.

Part funded by the Welsh government it is now live on the Apple app store and Google Play and college students were also among the first to test it.

Horticulture student Adehle Stafford, 19, from Oswestry, said:  ”It’s very organised, and really good. I like the different sections that are easy for everybody to understand. I would definitely recommend it to friends.”

Her mother, Emma, said; “Because of her learning disabilities, Adehle can take longer to adjust to a new situation. If she doesn't have enough preparation or is rushed, she can panic.

“She asks for a lot of explanation and likes to know the structure of her day and week. The challenge with the pandemic has meant many changes.  Learning to social distance,  understanding why your friends haven't come back to college,  or when they do why you can't hang out with them, why you can't go on work placement or why there was no prom or graduation is difficult. Adehle has been amazing and we are so proud of the way she has coped with all the

disruption over the past year.”

Derwen College Principal Meryl Green said that she was pleased to see that Starfish Labs had created an app specifically for people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

She said:  “The ever-changing advice surrounding keeping safe during the pandemic can be confusing for all of us, but especially for people with special educational needs, autism or communication difficulties.

“The app simplifies the guidance and allows the user to choose pictures, cartoons, words or Makaton symbols depending on their preferred method of communication.

“The ability to personalise the app is particularly impressive. Showing an individual’s own mask, wash basin and home environment makes it so much more engaging and relevant for them.”

Derwen College previously worked with Starfish to develop a suite of apps to support people with SEND into employment.

Neil Bevan, its director, said: “Covid-19: Staying Safe is part of a suite of three apps to support people with SEND through the pandemic and Starfish partnered with Derwen College to develop video sequences for the apps. The filming went really well and the Derwen College clients all seemed to be enjoying the experience – both in front of the camera, and in watching what was going on behind the scenes. Some are obviously natural actors.

"By working with Derwen educationalists in the SEND sector to find out what’s really needed, we can create products that fulfil that need rather than a generic ‘one size fits all’ solution. This becomes even more effective for users and their families as they can use the pre-loaded guidance in the apps, based on government public health messages, simplified for ease of understanding by Derwen’s experts in the field, to create their own content that’s appropriate for their family member or student’s level of understanding.”

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