GiGi’s Playhouse is an American non-profit organization started by Nancy Gianni which provides free educational, therapeutic, and career development programs to individuals of all ages with Down syndrome. There are 50 locations across 23 states + Mexico which directly serve 30,000+ individuals with Down syndrome. There are an estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. with Down syndrome.
The GiGiFIT Program was developed by physiotherapists specifically for persons with Down syndrome, including children and toddlers. The GiGiFIT programs are designed to address common issues for individuals with Down syndrome including hypotonia, excessive joint laxity, and decreased balance. It helps them build strength, endurance, power, joint stability, balance and movement control. It also improves autonomy and builds confidence in their abilities while improving their overall health and wellness.
Members of Microsoft in the United States had been looking at ways of helping GiGi’s Playhouse convert their existing GiGiFIT programme into an app using the Azure Kinect which could be used in their centers. This formed the basis of their project for the Microsoft Hackathon 2019.
When Covid-19 hit the U.S., GiGi’s Playhouse suspended all in-person programming, and the 25,000 GiGi’s families lost 4,400 hours per week of free therapeutic and educational programming, including classes of GiGiFit. Although they were able to begin offering online classes, the need to provide the families who normally attend the GiGi’s Playhouses around the country with additional support they needed quickly became evident.
Through Evolv’s work with the Microsoft Mixed Reality team in the U.S., based onto its launch of the pioneering Evolv RehabKit with the Azure Kinect, it was invited by Microsoft to help support the GiGi’s project. The idea was to build upon the existing EvolvRehab platform to and incorporate a virtual version of the GigiFIT programme and broaden the solutions using a variety of Microsoft services and products based around the Azure platform.
The Microsoft team suggested taking part in the upcoming Microsoft’s 2020 global Hackathon, an annual event produced by the Microsoft Garage . The event took place between July 27-29, 2020, with over 55 Hackathon Venues worldwide. The Microsfot Hackathon provided a perfect opportunity to showcase what all three organizations could do to convert the GiGiFIT Program into a virtual solution for home use. Over a period of 3 days of intense work, all done virtually, Evolv worked with GiGi’s staff and Microsoft members from the Azure Kinect team, Teams staff and other sections in Microsoft to build a working virtual GiGiFIT prototype.
The resulting hack, called the “GiGi’s Virtual Coach”, demonstrated how EvolvRehab could be repurposed to provide persons with Down Syndrome a novel way of receiving physical therapy through virtual assessments, exercises, and exergames as well as to participate remotely in a variety of activities in the comfort of their own home. It also demonstrated through the use of Teams, Streams and other Microsoft solutions that GiGi’s could offer to their users. The new platform would also allow GiGi’s to expand its services worldwide.
The results of the Hackathon were so promising that all three participants decided to continue the work beyond the Hackathon with the aim of rolling out a fully working solution as soon as possible. One of the main aims of having such a platform for persons with Down Syndrome is to help collect data on them. In the U.S., Down syndrome is the least funded major genetic condition although it is the most frequent chromosomal disorder. Due to this lack of funding government organizations, there is very little known about the condition.
This project highlighted the flexibility and opportunities offered by the EvolvRehab system to provide specialised care out into the community for different types of diseases and conditions.