Here at the Foundation we’re always talking about how we can help educate people with DS and their carers about the importance of ‘Real Food’. Meals where you know exactly what is in there because you put it in there! Vegetables, fruit and good quality protein and fats (the good kind). Yes research is vitally important but how can we ensure our community is doing the basics too?
“Eating right, exercising and sleep are all areas where we can all improve our health and risk of chronic illness in the future.”
This is just as important in people with DS, perhaps even more-so! Often a focus on the bare minimum health standards mean having low expectations of what ‘healthy’ and Down’s syndrome can look like. This does not have to be the case.
Today on the blog we’re so pleased to be speaking to the creator of a lovely app, My Special Recipes, Dr Hoi Fei Kwok. We were pleased to see Hoi’s app was making it simpler for anyone with a learning disability to cook for themselves. Let’s learn a little more about it from Hoi…
Hi Hoi! Can you tell us a little about yourself and you family?
I have medical and engineering qualifications and had been working in academia for 15 years. I am married to Simon and have two children. Hannah is 13 and Sean, who has Down Syndrome, is 10.
So what inspired you to create Ability Cook?
In 2014, I was working on a project called CogWatch in University of Birmingham. We were designing a computer system to help people who have apraxia, a condition that affects their ability to perform tasks in the correct order, to do simple tasks like making tea or brushing teeth. The system was supposed to detect which step the user is doing and automatically remind him if he makes a mistake. While we had some success, it is not accurate enough for the masses and it is also an expensive system (it involves force sensors, kinect and leap, etc) and needs every part (such as tea cup, kettle, sugar bowl, etc) to be at the right place. I thought it would be nice if we have a system that can help people do more complex tasks, such as cooking but the system we developed is a long way from that.
One day I passed by the medical school and spotted a young lady with Down Syndrome. As she was walking, she was on her smartphone, just like most young people do nowadays. That gave me an idea, we can simply design an app and show the step by step instruction of cooking different dishes. It is not so sophisticated but it is cheaper and potentially can improve the life of many because a lot of people with learning disability or brain injury can use smartphones.
A short time afterwards, my supervisor in the university sent me an email alerted me about the Nesta Inclusive Technology prize and encouraged me to enter the competition. So I put the idea of the cooking app for people with learning disability and memory problem to the competition and the app became one of the semi-finalists. I have got Suzie Crowter, whose sister Heidi has Down Syndrome, to help with the recipes and Heidi and her friend Rishard also contributed to the design of the app.
Although we did not get into the final, I continued to develop the app so it became available on Google Play.
What good have you seen come out of it since it’s launch?
I can see from Heidi that her cooking skill has definitely improved. The app tells her the sequence but through cooking every week, her skills in cutting the ingredients, etc also have improved.
What are your hopes for the future of Ability Cook?
I think a lot of things can be done to improve the app but it is difficult to do it with just one person in particular the design of the user interface to make it more appealing and making the recipes more flexible. Currently it is only available as Android mainly because there is no funding to develop the iOS version (which requires annual subscription to Apple, buying Macbook and iPhones for development and testing, etc). I hope that an organisation can take this work forward. I would like to keep the price of the app low and ad-free. That becomes a problem commercially.
Any other thoughts for our readers/take away tips for parents/carers?
From what I have seen, young people with Down Syndrome enjoy cooking and with supervision, they can cook a nutritious meal.
Just to add, if there are any colleges or organisations that would like to work together to develop the app further or to develop other apps that help people with learning disabilities live a healthy and independent life, I would be interested- please get in touch with me!
Many thanks for speaking with us and telling us about Ability Cook! We’re so pleased healthy eating is being made accessible to all!
Download Ability Cook here