App pinpoints activities for kids with disabilities

The Jooay app helps parents find classes such as music, art, and cooking for kids with disabilities as well as summer camps



A team of occupational therapists at McGill University is launching a mobile app to help children with disabilities and their families locate leisure activities in their community. “Jooay,” a play on the French word “to play,” is an interactive, user-friendly app that offers information about nearby activities catering to children with disabilities, including music, art, and cooking as well as summer camps.

“After researching the leisure participation in patients with cerebral palsy, [we] found that they were participating less than their peers,” says Annette Majnemer, director and associate dean of McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy and one of two people behind the app’s creation. “One of the reasons was because families were not aware of what programs existed in their local communities.”  

Development started last year after Majnemer and Keiko Shikako-Thomas, assistant professor at McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy and co-creator of the project, brought the idea to Montreal’s Hacking Health Hackathon, an event designed to improve healthcare by inviting technology creators and healthcare professionals to come up with solutions to front-line problems. Quebec parents can browse through more than 200 activities by keyword or by disability type and use the GPS to access a list of activities from closest to farthest. They will be able to rate the programs, add comments, connect with other families and suggest new programs. Researchers say that being involved in leisure activities helps kids become integrated into their community, is important for physical and mental health and fosters friendships. 

Helene Louise, a Montreal mother whose daughter Amelia suffered a stroke soon after she was born, said she had a hard time finding activities for her when she was young. “My experience in the early years of helping my daughter were so isolating,” she said.  Amelia is now an active and capable 13 year old. “I am certain that a big part of her development has come from getting her involved in exactly the kinds of leisure activities that Jooay is helping parents to find,” Louise said.

Robert Simpson is a physical education and swimming teacher at the Mackay Centre School. He is involved with Defi Sportif team, an extracurricular program that encourages students from grade 3 to high school to train for and participate in the unique athletic competition for youths with disabilities.  His role is to provide new information on leisure activities and programs to the Jooay team. “There is definitely a gap in leisure opportunities for children with disabilities,” he said. “I hope Jooay will change that in a big way.”

The app is one of the first initiatives to emerge from CHILD LeisureNet, a pan-Canadian network created in 2014 that brings together researchers, health-care professionals, community organizations, policy makers, families and youth interested in promoting leisure activities for children with physical and mental disabilities. 

Majnemer and Shikako-Thomas received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), NeuroDevNet and the Rick Hansen Foundation, and partnered with the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Trevor Williams Foundation, which employs young university students to help research and collect information on new programs.  The next step for the duo is to develop a sustainability plan. “We’ll continue with our Trevor Williams foundation partnership,” says Majnemer, with hopes to make the app accessible Canada-wide. 

A bilingual version of the app  is expected to be released by the end of April. It will be free for iOS and Android and will be available at the App store, Google Play and on the Jooay website. For more leisure resources, research, policies supporting leisure and community support visit the LINK to Leisure website at childhooddisability.ca/leisure.

For more information about the app, visit jooay.com

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