A COMPANY founded by a couple frustrated at the lack of educational apps available for their disabled son is preparing to launch a major software revision.

Colin and Beverley Dean set up Special iApps as a non-profit social enterprise from their home in Durham City six years ago.

Infuriated at their inability to find suitable software for their youngest son William, who has Down syndrome and physical problems, the couple, who have a background in computer programming, decided to make their own apps.

They came up with Special Words, an app that encourages children to match colourful pictures to words, and after enjoying success, are pushing ahead with plans to introduce a revision.

“A friend urged us to buy an iPad for William but the educational apps we looked at weren’t suitable for him,” said Mrs Dean.

“They were just too fast, and William needed longer to process what he was doing.”

So, Mrs Dean asked husband Colin, who was working in the IT department at Durham University at the time, if he could create an app aimed at children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“A lot of apps include distracting sounds and animations,” said Mr Dean.

“This is a bit like TV news bulletins, where there is a person talking, people walking around in the studio behind, a graphic in a rectangular window at the top right with some video playing and a ticker-tape scrolling across the screen at the bottom.

“There’s all this stuff going on at once and it’s far too much for someone with a learning disability.

If you have autism or Down syndrome, these apps give you sensory overload.”

The first app was a real family affair.

Mrs Dean provided the ideas and the physical resources needed, with Mr Dean coding the software, Joseph, the couple’s eldest son, adding his voice to the app, and William and his friends acting as testers. The company now has a family of apps, including Special Stories, which helps children create a narrative on a tablet device.

However, the couple say they believe the business has even greater potential.

“We still haven’t got the market penetration,” said Mr Dean.

“We’re well known in the Down syndrome community, but not as much in the autism community and other communities around the world. We’re just scratching the surface of schools.

“There are a few very forwardthinking schools who have staff who are very pro the technology and not scared of it, but others are more cautious, even though feedback from schools demonstrates it saves teachers time.”

Mrs Dean added: “We have developed a new version of the app, Special Words Pro, which can print out assessment sheets and matching flash cards and has a huge number of curriculum-related resources, which can be downloaded.

“We firmly believe there is a market for Special iApps and we don’t want to stop. There’s so much more we could do, especially when we look at how many apps we sell due largely to word of mouth.”