Unleashing The Potential Of The Special Needs Via Digital Technology

Making it possible for the Special Needs and marginalised communities to be part of the new digital technology wave. Photo credit: Infinite Minds Academy website.

In my years of being an autism momvocate (mothers of autism offsprings who are involved in autism advocacy), I have always been fascinated by those who fight for autism even though they started out not being related to anyone who has autism. The moment these advocators interacted with a few autistic young adults or children, they were ‘hooked’ into trying their best to help these special beings who seem to be sent from God to give us light in an otherwise boring and static world.

These angel advocacy players whom I have come across with on a personal basis are Anne Subashini (Inclusive Outdoor Classroom/NASOM), Tunku Mona Riza (Redha), Prem (Care2Run) and Kiren Kaur (Infinite Minds Academy). All of them do not have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) kids, yet they propagate Autism awareness and acceptance in their various efforts and professional activities.

We will hear more about their respective journeys with autism families in the forthcoming articles. Today, Kiren from Infinite Minds Academy (IMA) describes the amazing path taken by her into setting up an academy focusing on providing digital technology training to the Special Needs and marginalised communities.

I chanced upon IMA when a few autism parents started sending their children there and posted about it in the Whatsapp groups. So I brought Aidel, who has high-functioning Aspergers and they assessed him as having the capacity to start at Level 3 animation. Subsequently, I brought in Ziqri, who was a bit slow to focus on what needs to be done, being super-hyper, but he is so happy to be going to ‘school’ again. He calls it ‘Autism School’ and eagerly awaits for Wednesdays and Fridays when he can attend the classes.

Aidel Rahman Aspergers and Ziqri Classic Autism now attend IMA to unleash their potential in animation and digital technology Pic credit Writer

The IMA vision started when Kiren was training the typically developing students of various international schools. Subsequently, she and her team were given an opportunity to run Animation programs for a special needs school in Bandar Sunway in 2013 and they were astounded by the capablity and interests of this differently-abled group. Because some of them were not able to express themselves, she saw the need to provide an outlet for them to expand their talents and skills.

Thus in 2008, Infinite Minds Academy was born with a space in Bandar Sunway and they first started training the typically developing youths until 2013 and the year after, they started focusing only on training the Special Needs and the marginalised communities on Animation Making, Design Technology, 3D printing, App Building and various others.

“We have been very motivated to continue this mission ever since our first batch of students won first place in the prestigious International CyberFair competition in 2014 where they competed against more than five million typically developing participants from 115 countries,” added Kiren.

Thereafter, they took the path to fully focus on them and this group has been very close to their hearts since then as they believe that they have lots of untapped capabilities.

Apart from being champions at the competition, IMA has many success stories in their portfolio. “Recently, one of our students invented a face mask extender which was well received by everyone and sold worldwide, while another student developed a Mobile App which won him a Gold Medal in the Malaysian Technology Expo in 2020.

Kiren Kaur with one of the awards her students won at the MTE 2020 expo Photo credit Infinite Minds Academy website

“Apart from that, our students’ works were displayed in various prominent billboards in the city centre and they also created a Mobile cum Animation App which was sold on App Store and downloaded in eight countries. And with their Digital Marketing skills, the students have started selling their products online,” said Kiren excitedly, like a mum taking pride in her children’s achievements.

Recently, the students from the Academy developed an animation video in conjunction with World Autism Awareness and Acceptance month to encourage others to understand and accept those under the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Wishlist For The Academy?

a) To have the support of corporations to assist via their CSR programmes to buy their products, or to fund the underprivileged students with their fees.
b) To acquire more machines to increase more teaching tools.
c) Move to a larger space, preferable on a ground floor, to make it more accessible to the physically-challenged and immobile students.

In three years’ time, she hoped that they can have branches in more places within South East Asia to help the Special Needs community in the region. Their future plans also include tie-ups with international agencies and currently working on collaborating with an international studio based in Los Angeles, USA.

“Our prime motive is to empower these special needs groups to be independent and earn a living with dignity, and not to be dependent on any handouts or donations. They are not only often left behind, but are also unable to join these kinds of programs due to financial constraints.

“We believe since everyone is moving towards digitalisation, these marginalised communities should be given an opportunity to discover their talents in this field. From the skills acquired, the trainees will be equipped to market their services and products Online – both locally and internationally,” she explained.

The types of products may include, but not limited to, designs or graphics, but they are also coming up with souvenirs, gifts, digital art designs and other useful products for daily usage.

Like everyone else, the pandemic hit them hard. But they were pleasantly surprised to see the dedication and ability of the students to move on to online learning. A few who did not know how to operate a computer earlier were now easily managing online classes. Many parents stepped in to assist their kids too. They are now having blended classes, some fully online, some fully physical and some a mix.

With the acceleration of transactions taking place online, it is evident that the large percentage of economic activities will be moving to the cyber world at a faster rate. So it is fitting that these members of society are given the opportunity to be part of this online marketing industry. – New Malaysia Herald

About the writer: Hasnah Abdul Rahman is the editor-in-chief of the New Malaysia Herald while being an activist for autism. She has worked for various media organisations as reporter and editor and specialises in strategic communications. She is also a foodpreneur in her spare time and gives traditional cuisine that 5-star edge from her home kitchen.

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