Microsoft employees enjoying a game of unified Captain’s Ball with athletes from Special Olympics Singapore
Microsoft has always been passionate about empowering every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Not only does the notion of empowerment drive everything that we do, we truly believe that when we empower people with the right tools, this can help them to achieve more and become anything that they want to be.
As a global non-profit partner of Special Olympics, Microsoft has been empowering their digital transformation and enabling the organisation that supports 6,000 intellectually disabled athletes in 28 countries in Asia to achieve more with technology. At the same, Microsoft supports the Special Olympics’ mission to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. However, this journey has not been easy.
All across the globe, people with intellectual disabilities are at a higher risk of health issues as they lack opportunities to engage in recreational activities and stay active due to social isolation. On average, six in 10 Special Olympics athletes are overweight or obese and are at risk for chronic health conditions, five in 10 have significant problems with flexibility, and four in 10 have problems at balance which puts them at risk of injuries. As a result, they face significant health challenges coupled with a shorter lifespan.
Recognising the issue, we rallied our ecosystem of partners to make a special donation to Special Olympics, and roped in other partners such as Palo IT and Empire Code to work with the organisation on a home-based fitness app for people with intellectual disabilities, with the aim of encouraging them to stay active while remaining socially integrated after leaving the school system. By taking time to understand the specific needs of Special Olympics athletes and taking deliberate steps to address them in the design and development of the app with the end users in mind, the final product is a truly inclusive application.
Called SPROUT, the app incorporates features such as animated exercise videos, exercise time progress bars, auditory cues, mandatory rest and lock-out periods as well as a user interface that is tailored for people with intellectual disabilities.
Through the gamification of simple exercises, the app encourages users to exercise regularly by completing exercise routines that allow them to convert movements into four elements that nurture a seedling into a plant; water, wind, sun and food. Each growth element is unlocked when an exercise is successfully completed by the user, and after each level, the app will be locked for 24 hours as a mandatory rest period to prevent excessive use.
Exercises in SPROUT are based on Special Olympics’ proprietary FIT5 framework. This framework incorporates nutritional considerations while providing a safe, tested and gradual way for a person with intellectual disabilities to stay fit. There are five levels of exercises in FIT5 that SPROUT breaks up into 10 gameplay levels, with each level containing exercises for strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.
The app also encourages caregivers to be more involved in the physical fitness of their dependents and bond with them in new ways by joining in or monitoring their progress, helping them to keep fit in a fun and more rewarding way.
Projects like this remind us that with the right partners and support, we can make a difference in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. And we are truly honoured to be able to partner with Special Olympics to create an application that changes the lives of the people around us.
By leveraging the assets that we have; our technology – Azure cloud platform; our expertise – the technical and project management know-how; and our ecosystem – our partners; to develop a tool that empowers, we can and therefore will continue to do our part to empower our people and communities to achieve more with technology.