In November 2018, we competed in the Congressional App Challenge in U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s congressional district. Since we had numerous relatives who have Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, we were inspired to combine our passions in community service and technology to design an app for Alzheimer’s patients. Following two years of refinement and development, we won our district’s Congressional App Challenge. The U.S. House of Representatives invited us to go to Washington, DC, to present this app to the U.S. House of Representatives (link.)
The rising impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on a community, regional, national, and international level inspired us to use our experiences in mobile app development to find a solution that addresses major areas of the problem. As children, we realized that isolation and social distancing could lead to stressful situations for numerous individuals, particularly children. As a result of this, we learned that children who live in an abusive situation are at more substantial risk. This risk is especially significant due to the isolation that is mandated by COVID-19. We realized that community members need to have a greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect during this stressful time, as well as the numerous resources available to the children who fall victim to subsequent maltreatment. This risk, experts have shown, could be a result of isolation, lack of answers, lack of structure to the day, and the lack of things to look forward to - all effects of COVID-19.
As students, we believe we can make an impact in society, big or small, with our idea. Technology is indeed the future, and we need to make sure that we adopt the tools that we use to help, entertain, to assist child abuse victims in being very reflective of these advances. Furthermore, we hope to use our application to inspire and encourage other involved students in our district and even around the state to get involved in coding and also develop their apps for problems that are personal to them. If we were to win the competition, we plan to continue to use our platform to help further encourage and inspire others, as well as show other legislators the importance of the problem we are trying to address.
What it does
Our application, Coaware (COVID + Aware), has two simple tabs designed for emergencies regarding child abuse: Signs and Symptoms, along with Emergency Contacts.
Signs and Symptoms is a simple tab that uses a layout to detail the various red flags that may be evident during situations of child abuse. The idea here is that individuals, such as neighbors, will be able to have an emergency ‘pocketbook’ that they can refer to if they are ever suspicious. Although it may seem trivial, having a resource as accessible as a mobile application can help individuals raise awareness to prevent further abuse and neglect. All of the signs of symptoms on the mobile app are from the Mayo Clinic. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864).
The second tab, Emergency Contacts, shows a plethora of emergency contacts and hotlines that specialize in the abuse and neglect of children, whether it be physical or sexual exploitation. In a case study that we performed, we found that the majority of individuals that we surveyed did not know who to contact in cases and situations to report child abuse. The lack of awareness of these resources hinders the ability of the public to effectively address the problem. The public is often unsure or unaware as to what to even do in the appropriate situation, so we linked to various National Child Abuse hotlines in the app. Hence, individuals know exactly where to contact in a critical condition. The vast majority of the time, individuals can reach out to these hotlines in an anonymous fashion, for added privacy.
How we built it
We built our application using Java and XML in Android Studio. We used a relative layout format with tab-based fragments for the first tab and corresponding layout design with intent fillers for the second tab’s functionality.
Challenges we ran into
Our first significant difficulty was to make the application and user-interface simple enough to be operated by any individual. We had to navigate and test out various fonts, image sizes, color combinations, and table setups to make sure that the app was clean and simple to operate without compromising the usefulness of its features.
The next problem we faced was formatting our app to have two tabs to hold our different functions. Some of the features that we desired to use in our app required extremely high-level programming ad formatting. To manage this problem, we reached out to our teachers, resources online, and other references to learn about the XML and Java techniques that the task required. It was a very challenging and tedious process. Still, in the end, we were able to successfully implement into our app the formatting that we thought would make it the most user friendly, and we learned a ton of information along the way.
The final technical challenge we faced in creating the application was making sure that it would be functional across various Android Platforms. The problems that we ran into would vary from device to device, so it was challenging to come up with a solution that worked for every single one and didn’t create problems of its own. We ran several tests on a variety of Android emulators and tested the application on a wide array of personal devices and were eventually able to come up with a solution that worked across the boards. This process was eye-opening for us, as we never realized how seemingly small changes could have drastic impacts on different devices.
Accomplishments that we’re proud of
Some accomplishments that we’re proud of deal with our app for Alzheimer’s patients, Alois, which inspired us to make this app. The U.S. House of Representatives invited us to showcase Alois to them in the U.S. Capitol Building. Individually, numerous State and National Congresspeople have invited us to demonstrate our application. Fox 4 News also interviewed us (link).) Additionally, our group was named as Conrad Innovators in the National Conrad Challenge. Alois was also named as the 1st Runner-Up in the national Diamond Challenge at the Sam Houston State University Pitch Location. We are also proud to have many downloads after approval of our application onto the Google Play Store. We want to use our experience and success to continue to propel Coaware to help children globally.
What’s next for Coaware App
Overall we are delighted with our final product, and we were able to make a lot of improvements from the last app we created to this one. That said, we would always love to be able to improve the app even more, and we know that there are improvements to be made, we just didn’t have the time to make all of them. We know that we can always improve, incorporate more valuable feedback, and learn from our mistakes. One challenge that we would have to face if we decided to develop the app, however, would be maintaining a clean, simple interface despite having more functions. In this specific field, we have to understand that less is sometimes more. Potential technological additions will include modules and relaxing games for child abuse victims, networks for victims to share their stories in a peer-network, as well as possible chatting services within the app in partnership with abuse hotlines.
We are currently in the process of publishing our application in the Google Play Store as well as developing an iOS version of our app. In addition to this, we are working on collaborating with a variety of non-profit organizations that specialize in child abuse awareness at a community and regional level. We have objectively networked with various legislators to start district initiatives and launches of our application. Success in this global hackathon will allow us to launch Coaware at a worldwide level, to protect the thousands of children that fall victim to child abuse.
We are also looking to expand our app to other areas, such as domestic violence, whose rates, unfortunately, skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic.