Walkiie – A Mobile App that Connects Volunteers with Children & Youth with Intellectual Disabilities
The Walkiie App is designed to connect children and young people with intellectual disabilities and their parents/guardians with volunteers who are ready to support them during outings and making them feel more included in society.
The “Something Atypical” team is a group of young people who received an honorary award during the national Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge for their digital solution - Walkiie app - to connect volunteers with children and young people with disabilities. They received $1000 US dollars seed funding from the UNICEF and Telecom for Macedonia Foundation digital inclusion initiative, as well as additional mentoring support to help them bring their idea to life.
They are three bright enthusiasts: Elena, Dzvezda and Laze or as they call him, their inspiration and person full of creative thinking.
UNICEF Young Reporters, Maria and Dorisa, reveal a little more about the Walkiie app and the team that created it.
Dorisa and Maria: Can you explain and give us more detail about the Walkiie app?
Something Atypical: The Walkiie App is designed to connect children and young people with intellectual disabilities and their parents/guardians with volunteers who are ready to support them during outings and making them feel more included in society. The application is currently free and available on Play Store [Add hyperlink], and we are working on making it available on App Store as well. App users first create their own profile, then select the user or volunteer option. The volunteer leaves his/her resume and time periods when he/she is free, while the user sees the list of volunteers and chooses the volunteer that suits him/her. It is important to note that the safety of users, i.e. persons with intellectual disabilities, is guaranteed, as only they can see the information about the volunteer, while the volunteer does not see the user’s information, so parents/guardians can be informed at what time, where and with whom their child is interacting with. Basically, the app is very simple and easy to use.
Dorisa and Maria: What encouraged you to develop this type of project? What was your mission?
Something Atypical: We got our inspiration from people with disabilities, those with whom we worked with before the challenge. We’ve seen how they experience discrimination, how severe and unfair it is and we wanted to contribute to creating equality for all. The feedback we receive about our app really motivates us to come up with even better ideas to make society more inclusive.
Dorisa and Maria: Did this project make you see things differently?
Something Atypical: Definitely yes, but we were already aware of the issues given we’ve been working with persons with intellectual disabilities for a longer period now. However, while we were working on this project, we became more familiar with the problems they face, how they spend their time, and we gained more experience, of course. Parents were particularly happy and even shared with us that the whole idea was well thought out and that for their children it was a small change, but for them, the parents, it meant huge help.
Dorisa and Maria: What feelings did you have during the initiative?
Something Atypical: We felt extremely fulfilled and useful, because people with disabilities really needed support. We work with four schools, so this meant a lot of socializing and new friendships at the workshops we held; it was a really wonderful experience. Still, we have to admit that it was also a bit stressful, we were worried whether everything would turn out right. Then, there was the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, so we had to change our plans and things got a bit complicated, but in the end, everything worked out.
Dorisa and Maria: How has the experiences you’ve gained affected you?
Something Atypical: We gained a lot of experience: we got a lot of advice, we learned how to plan our activities, and felt a great sense of responsibility. Also, our mentor Boro Petkovski from Telecom taught us many new skills and was always there to help us, he was indeed dedicated to this project.
Dorisa and Maria: Does it make a difference to you that you are given an opportunity and a platform that allows you to do something like this with your mentor?
Something Atypical: Our greatest support was our mentor, who has a lot of experience and could help us in every aspect; we communicated with him on a daily basis. In the beginning, we held our meetings twice a week, but after the state of emergency was introduced, we started communicating on the phone daily.
Dorisa and Maria: When did you start developing your application, how will you promote it and what are your expectations?
Something Atypical: We first had the idea to promote the app through schools, i.e. to visit schools, present our project and identify the volunteers who would be interested. However, because we found ourselves in a state of emergency, we had no way to do it, we only got to visit one school, where we were really surprised and very happy to see how much interest there was. Many volunteers applied, but we couldn’t do it exactly as we had planned, due to the situation. Nevertheless, we can still say that we initially started promoting the app through social media and phone calls. We can single out our participation on a TV Morning Program where we gave an interview to introduce people to our project. We are still active on social networks, we post every day to raise awareness, things related to UNICEF’s work for children, to engage people.
Dorisa and Maria: Can you reveal something more about the way you prepared to develop the final protype?
Something Atypical: Before we started with this project, we did some research, such as interviewing school children, educators and teachers. In addition, we searched the Internet for previous experience in the creation of similar applications, support from NGOs and the like. In the end, we presented our idea and we ended among the top five finalists, for which we were very proud.
Dorisa and Maria: What would you say to young people? After this experience, do you think that young people have the power to create positive change in society?
Something Atypical: Certainly, YES. At least we think so, because what we are doing will contribute to greater equality. If nothing else, we will have contributed to creating new friendships and knowledge amoung volunteers and persons with disabilities. In addition, one of the greatest benefits of our mobile app is that it gives parents more time for themselves. Something they didn’t have before. And more importantly, we believe that regardless of ability, socialising will lead to greater social inclusion, something that was missing in the past. We also believe that we are now a generation that is very aware of the environment, everything that’s happening in it, be it developments related to people with disabilities, bullying or other issues; we are aware that diversity is natural and we think that with future generations, our society will further develop. It is us who should take a step forward in achieving the society we want to live in.