Hour of Code: Giving voice to children with autism

Digital transformation is changing our world fast. And, while it is creating amazing opportunities and innovative solutions, it also runs the risk of deepening the digital divide – not just among countries and economies, but also individuals.

Everyone in society needs to have the access and skills to use technology to succeed in the digital world. In other words, if the 4th industrial revolution is to achieve good in our future, it must be “fair” and “inclusive”, particularly for the one in seven of us who live with a disability.

Like many big things in life, progress often starts off with a few little steps. And, recently Microsoft Malaysia made another one of those steps on the road to inclusion. It is partnering with a facility that works with children on the autistic spectrum.

You can find the “We Rock the Spectrum Gym” on the top floor of a quiet shopping mall within Klang Valley near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.   Walk inside and you will see that it is a special place where kids learn, grow, and socialize through play. The lights are subdued and calming. There are swings, mini-trampolines, and even a zipline. The floors have protective padding and bright colors are everywhere. It is an environment designed to burn off energy, build confidence, make friends, learn skills, and develop otherwise hidden potential.

Now the gym is adding Microsoft’s highly successful Hour of Code program to its activities – so the children there can enjoy the experience and satisfaction of learning how to code.

To kick things off, Microsoft recently brought students, from nine Asia Pacific countries taking part in its Imagine Cup regional finals, to the gym. They spent a morning huddled around Surface devices, showing children how to code with Minecraft – an educational program that is a huge hit in schools around the world. It was eye-opening for both sides of the exercise with smiles, giggles, and gasps of satisfaction.

“It truly warms my heart that Microsoft is bringing these kinds of skills to the kids at our gym. We welcome all children and it is great to know that nobody is going to be left behind,” said Nori Abdullah, the gym’s co-owner.  “By enabling them to learn through the Hour of Code, children are less likely to have fewer opportunities and be marginalized with less access to education.

“It is great that we have this opportunity to collaborate together. We absolutely intend to shatter any stereotypes about how people who are different cannot rock the world and do something really, really amazing. We are going to show the world how inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity can make that key difference.”

Microsoft will now work closely with the gym trainers, so they can conduct the Hour of Code sessions independently in the future.

Microsoft’s Managing Director for Malaysia K Raman said the corporation is committed to empowering every individual and every organization on the planet to do more. “So, it is not just about technology, it is what we do with technology that counts … to make the world a better place. It is about helping people with all abilities. We are going away from what we call the ‘digital divide’ to what we call the ‘digital dividend’, so everyone can have equal opportunities in this new world.”

Wan Himratul Azliza, a medical doctor who is raising a child with autism, recounted how her family was often chastised in public – unable to go to swimming pools, shops, or restaurants because of her child’s behavior.

“Coming to this gym changed our lives. It gives us family time and we can see the difference in our kids,” she said.

She welcomed the addition of coding to the gym’s work, saying there are now many online programs that are helping children with autism communicate and learning to code could now empower those children to grow up into productive individuals.

“If you train them from the beginning, they can grasp coding skills and make something beautiful for themselves,” she said. “Coding is very important in changing lives and giving a voice to those children who used to be voiceless.”

READ more about the work of Microsoft Philanthropies Asia 


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