Design Challenge Subject Matter Expert Stephen Cowan works at That's a Wrap deli in Gaithersburg, Maryland – a venture established by nonprofit organization Community Support Services, Inc. That's a Wrap started as a place for people with disabilities to come together, cook, and eat lunch. It evolved to offer a wide range of opportunities benefitting people with developmental disabilities.
Cowan is an exceptional chef who enjoys creating wraps and salads. He and many of the other chefs at That's a Wrap have cognitive disabilities and often get frustrated when preparing food. Remembering the ingredients needed for each recipe, and in which order, can be difficult and cause anxiety.
Working with Cowan as their subject matter expert, Team A&M – a group of Poolesville High School students studying engineering – set a goal of creating a solution that would allow Cowan to prepare menu items more easily.
"We had lots of ideas of how we were going to create a device for Stephen, but then we were told that the deli was interested in an app," said Madeline Brode, student at Poolesville High School and team leader. "None of us had developed an app before, but we saw it as a learning opportunity. We watched videos, talked to app experts and read tutorials. We're so proud of how we started with a blank screen and expanded it into multiple screens with camera detection and GIFs."
The A&M team created a software application called "RecipEasy," which helps employees follow steps for successfully preparing recipes. Once the app opens, a home screen appears and displays an image of the employee – a feature the team added for personalization. A tab on the bottom of the screen leads to the list of recipe categories.
Cowan's focus is on wraps and salads. If a customer ordered a chipotle wrap, for example, Cowan would click on the wrap category and look for the correct recipe and follow the step-by-step instructions. As he progresses through the recipe, he holds up a spatula in front of the device to activate the app to move to the next screen—a clever camera-activated feature that accommodates hands-free use when necessary and helps employees maintain the sanitary standards required. At the end of the recipe instructions, a photo of the finished menu item appears.
Brode, along with her teammates, Anjali Murthy, and Matthew Magnani found that RecipEasy reduced the amount of employee assistance needed by half and led to increased employee confidence. Using RecipEasy, Cowan and other That's a Wrap employees can work more independently when preparing food and have a more enjoyable work experience.
"It was exciting that we were able to meet and work with smart high school students who helped us improve our operations," said Arnel Cervantes, manager, That's a Wrap. "It brought excitement and curiosity out of our employees. We broke a barrier with this project when we were able to incorporate a technological device in our workplace, which now serves as an instructional tool."