Making it a lot easier

Making it a lot easier

Two Polytechnic University students created apps to help people in wheelchairs find their way around

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From left: Lui Yuen-chong and Lau Shiu-fung with PolyU's Raymond Chu
From left: Lui Yuen-chong and Lau Shiu-fung with PolyU's Raymond Chu
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
Experience can teach us valuable lessons. It can also spark our creativity.

Just ask Lui Yuen-chong and Lau Shiu-fung. The two Polytechnic University students have each designed an app for wheelchair users, winning awards in the Innovation Stream of the PolyU Micro Fund 2013 "Do Well Do Good" entrepreneurship competition.

Lui's Dmap, which works like Google Maps, provides barrier-free routes and en-route information about obstacles for wheelchair users.

"My father has been in a wheelchair since I was born," notes the 23-year-old, who has a double major in Business Administration and Industrial and System Engineering. "When I go out with him, I always find myself having to look for another route whenever we face a staircase or an escalator. It's a waste of time just trying to find the right route."

Lui says this "inconvenience" inspired her to invent DMap.

Lau Shiu-fung, also 23, has a personal experience with wheelchairs: he needs to use one himself. Lau suffers from muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens muscles, and he has been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager. But his ailment hasn't slowed him down.

"I like going out to places and socialising with my friends. I don't want to live a different life to others just because of my physical condition," says Lau, a student at PolyU's Department of Computing.

His winning design, WheelMan, is a mobile app offering information on facilities available for the physically challenged in places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas and shopping malls.

"When I go out, I often encounter problems," says Lau. "There are many obstacles. For example, I went to a shopping mall where I couldn't find an entrance for a wheelchair user. One step may not seem like much of an obstacle to others, but my wheelchair weighs 90kg, and it takes a lot of effort and time for my friend to lift me up."

His app brings all the information from the internet for wheelchair users into one convenient spot.

The PolyU Micro Fund, which was set up in 2011, offers seed money for students and alumni to pursue their business ideas. Since its launch, the fund has supported 44 entrepreneurial ventures. This year, 16 entrepreneurship awards and 11 innovation awards were given by the university.

Winning the awards has brought Lui and Lau together. They saw an opportunity to put their HK$80,000 prize money to good use.

"I'm good at marketing and he studies programming. We'll be able to combine our expertise and resources," says Lui.

Raymond Chu Chi-yin, assistant director of the university's Institute for Entrepreneurship, is glad to see the pair's positive energy. "Their ideas can truly benefit society," says Chu. "We'll continue to help them manage the development of the project, and introduce them to other social enterprises which will be able to support them."

The two designers will first focus on popular areas like Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. They will also need to hire a technical person to help develop their new app.

"I think our designs can give more freedom to users who need the services and will be popular among [disabled] young people who enjoy social activities," Lau says.


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