September 6, 2019

Community leisure activities are an important source of physical activity and healthy development for youth. For children with disabilities, however, it can be challenging to find local activities that are accessible and inclusive to their needs.

Developed at McGill University and funded in part by Kids Brain Health, the Jooay App is free and helps children with disabilities and their families locate accessible leisure opportunities that are close to where they are and suit their needs.

Co-Principal Investigators Dr. Keiko Shikako-Thomas and Dr. Annette Majnemer worked closely with occupational therapists, childhood disability researchers, parents, youth, rehabilitation professionals, policy makers, physical educators and community partners in order to develop the app.

“The Jooay app is the use of mobile technology to impact health behaviour, build community, and inform policy. It addresses a crucial gap in access to leisure,” said Dr. Shikako-Thomas.

Impacting both the child’s social development and health, the Jooay app improves the number of services offered for children with disabilities, in the different communities, by increasing social awareness.

Following the app’s launch in September of 2018, important updates were made in partnership with Tactica Interactive, an interactive digital media company with experience working in a research context

  • A chat function was added within the app to allow for communication and the exchange of ideas between users
  • The notification system was updated to allow for prompts and reminders about events and information
  • The Android version of the app is now fully functional
  • Users can now complete forms through the app and add activities. While the Jooay team still moderates and validates events and activities, users can now directly suggest events in their area, allowing for greater reach and interaction
  • Australia will be added to the app in the coming months following interest expressed by researchers

These new additions to Jooay are timely with the recent assent of the Accessible Canada Act for persons with disabilities. Though the act focus on areas of federal jurisdiction, Dr. Shikako-Thomas believes that the Act is an important step forward in increasing the profile of disabilities and accessibility in Canada.

“The hope is that it will create momentum, and it will improve the conversation or the possibility of conversation around disability. But we do need to keep working with communities and government to make sure that the act also benefits children and families by improving the way we remove barriers to all aspects of accessibility in Canada, including accessibility to leisure opportunities” said Dr. Shikako-Thomas.

The next goal for the Jooay team is to form partnerships with community organizations and municipal governments in order to make inclusive leisure mainstream. In an ideal world, if a child with a disability wants to register for swimming classes, hockey leagues, or music lessons they would go on the city website and look under this activity and be able to register for it. Right now that is not the case in most cities, and parents don’t know where to find this information, which is why the Jooay app is so instrumental in creating change. Strong partnerships with municipal governments will be essential moving forward.

Written by Mischa Milne