The first Cohort of the Autism Tech Project completed their classes on 28th April 2017. The project is on a pilot basis and is the first project of its kind in Strathmore University. The project seeks to create an environment whereby certain individuals on the Autism Spectrum can be trained on Software Testing and other areas of IT and get employment. @iLabAfrica partnered with IBM, who provided their software testing tool. After a series of interviews, 5 students were selected to pioneer it at @iLabAfrica.
Project Autism Tech was conceived in November 2015 as a possible means to addressing the problem of unemployment amongst capable individuals in the Autism Spectrum within the field of software testing. This specific area was selected because it is a model that has been successfully proven in all continents of the world except in Africa.
@iLabAfrica, being a Research Centre in Strathmore University established in 2011 to spearhead Research and Innovation in the ICT for the Development (ICT4D) ecosystem towards the attainment of the UNDP Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Kenya’s Vision 2030, was selected by the Project pioneer to partner in the execution of the pilot project.
The project sought to create an environment whereby certain individuals on the Autism Spectrum could be trained and get employment on the basis of their areas of strength. Software Testing & Quality assurance is one such area where people with Autism have been known to excel and thus the project was borne.
The 5 Candidates went through a series of classes that comprised of Information Technology, soft skills and life skills. In IT they learnt about software testing, data entry, cloud computing, basic programming and Internet among others. Some of the soft skills they were taught were communicating with colleagues, respecting personal space, advocating for themselves and professionalism of work. They were also taught on how to do interviews, going through contracts and seeking advice before signing any agreement with companies or persons. They were exposed to making and doing presentations in order to show and sell any ideas and information when required.
“The experience has helped the candidates grow a lot socially since the beginning of the project. Initially, they had difficulties in holding conversations and teamwork. These communication and social challenges are due to the fact that they are on the autism spectrum. But with time, through intensive coaching and role playing, a huge improvement has been seen. Today they are able to hold group discussions and work in a team with minimal supervision”, said Naomi Nyambura who is their Job coach.
The project gave the candidates an opportunity to make friends and have meaningful work relationships with neuro-typical colleagues. Through the pilot project, those in the university were sensitized on Autism and what it is all about and were able to connect with the candidates and assist them in any way possible.
Outcome of the Project
From the training, the candidates were able to learn about research and documentation and make presentations based on the research. The candidates were also able to learn about software testing which included practical sessions on manual and automated software testing. They used the IBM software testing tool to do the automated testing successfully. Other areas that the candidates were trained on was cloud computing, programming in Java and website development. During the graduation ceremony, one of the candidates was offered an internship opportunity at Kenya Communication Centre for Learning (KCCL) by the Principal.
The ego, confidence and morale of the candidates also improved a great deal as a result of being in the Autism Tech project. They had always dreamt of being in a university, being accepted and treated normally without discrimination. This is what they got and it has helped them increase their self-belief, and worked hard throughout their training. Their goal is to get employed, to be independent. This project opened a door for this goal to be achieved.
All in all the Autism Tech project has been a great success. It is evident that with continued support, people with disabilities have a chance of getting training in IT and getting meaningful employment thereby becoming independent and leading a more normal life.