Technology February 29, 2020
Making Authentic Friendships app helps disabled kids make friends online
Juliana Featherman has a brother named Michael who is under the autism spectrum. Over the years, Juliana noticed how her teenager brother had a tough time making friends. So she decided to step up and make a positive difference to his life by creating the app Making Authentic Friendships (MAF) so that he can make friends with other disabled youngsters like him. The app that is available in over five continents is gaining popularity.
Juliana Featherman, who has a brother under the autism spectrum, realized the many problems faced by disabled children to make friends. Her brother Michael, who is in high school, found it hard to make friends because most of his peers ignored or side-lined him. Juliana stepped up and decided to do something to make her brother’s life more fun. She created and designed the app Making Authentic Friendships (MAF) for disabled youngsters like her brother. The app which is gaining popularity across the world is yet to become full-fledged in India. Experts from the disability community have mixed opinions about the app.
Creating an exclusive app for disabled children
Juliana’s brother Michael was diagnosed with autism when he was hardly eight years old. Until then the family had noticed certain developmental delays in him. But like most students with autism, school life was tough for little Michael. Juliana did not want to leave it there. She wanted to make a positive difference to the Michael’s life as well as lives of many others like him. That is how the MAF app was created.
Seema Lal is the co-founder of ‘TogetherWeCan’, a parent support group from Kerala.
Wanting to have meaningful relationships in life is not a special need. We need to be more cautious while using virtual platforms for those who need support. I believe it is important to form friendships in real first and then use devices or the virtual space to connect. It is unfortunate that families or immediate communities need a virtual app for it.- Seema Lal, Co-founder, TogetherWeCan.
Juliana hopes that this new app can help youngsters with disabilities to come out of their comfort zones and interact more with people like them.
Functioning of the MAF app
MAF aims to start conversations between disabled children. It asks the user for name, age, location and diagnosis. The app then matches people based on their diagnosis. So the more user chats with friends, the more points they earn. These coins can be used to buy clothes for their new avtar!
Juliana and her team are not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that the app is safe for use. All the chats are monitored and if anything suspicious is noticed, the user will be flagged.
The MAF app was formally launched in the year 2019. Today, they are available in over 35 states, 12 countries and 5 continents across the globe. Most of their users are based in England.
Reactions on social media
Many people took to social media to share their opinions and experience after using the app.
“Please take a moment and check out this wonderful project, help to do good in this world Making Authentic Friendships App”, tweeted Erica Siegmann.
“Making friends can be challenging for anyone, but it can be even more difficult if you have a disability. One sister in New York saw the struggles her brother faced and created an app for people with disabilities to make new friends”, tweeted UCP Seguin.
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