The Issue Tom Solves

Tom ensures that students with disabilities have an equal right to learning opportunities. As the Education System is in a period of great change, it is necessary that all students are given an equal chance to thrive.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, I watched as my mother (a special needs educator) became increasingly frustrated and concerned for her students as schools failed to follow IEPs. By not following IEPS, the Education System leaves students with disabilities behind. In addition, Tom supports the setting up of IEPs, as many families go through great difficulties during the beginning of the IEP process.

What Tom does

Tom assists both students and guardians of students with creating a new IEP and ensuring existing ones are being enforced.

How we built Tom

-Tom was built with Bot Composer Framework to deploy an Azure Bot. -The bot is accessible from a Create React App that is hosted with an Azure Web App. -Tom utilizes Application Insights for improving development. -Tom utilizes Language Understanding (LUIS) for understanding the user and responding to them correctly.

Challenges I ran into

I faced many challenges while building Tom. The primary challenge that I faced was finding time to develop Tom while being a full-time student, part-time intern as well as being heavily involved in the university system as midterms approached. Also, I struggled to publish Tom to Azure due to account regulations and restrictions built into the Composer Framework that required me to pull down contributors pull requests. One challenge that if I were to do this again, I would avoid, is instead of hand-coding the URL creation, I would have utilized a package.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

This was my first Azure Cloud application so I am extremely proud that I learned how to utilize Azure Cloud (thanks heavily to the Cloud Skills Challenge) and have a working product by the end of the hackathon. Another accomplishment I am proud of is building a product that not only helps the world to become more accessible but also helps with educating the youth.

What we learned

I was able to learn more about IEPs, the processes, and the laws associated with them during this hackathon through both internet research and interviews with those who have been affected by IEPs. In addition, I have also learned how to use Azure Cloud services - specifically, building a bot with language understanding on Azure and hosting a web app there. Finally, I learned how to use mailto links for the generated emails which is something that I had never done before.

What's next for Tom the IEP Assistant

I have many ideas for the future of Tom so that he can get better at helping users. First and foremost, I would like to add additional chatbot features for correcting things such as somebody’s name or email (this was not added solely based on time constraints). I would also like to add more questions for Tom to generate a better email draft for the user. Some of these questions include why the student needs or has an IEP, pronouns of the student, name of the school that the student attends, and name of the teacher if they are reaching out to a different faculty member. Finally, I think it would be great to add a connection to a list of Education Advocates and Attorney recommendations that are close to the user if needed.

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