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Realizing the Dreams of Students with Disabilities:Special Education Content Manufacturer Softzen
  • November 21, 2019

Realizing the Dreams of Students with Disabilities:
Special Education Content Manufacturer Softzen

Many students with disabilities dream of someday becoming a chef. Realistically, however, there is not yet enough infrastructure to teach students with disabilities how to cook. Special education content has emerged to solve some of the problems faced by students with disabilities. Say hello to the virtual kitchen exploration program developed by Softzen using virtual reality technology.

By reporter Kim Ji-hyun, Money Today Network, jihyunsports@mtn.co.kr

The 2019 National Students with Disability E-festival was held at The K Hotel Seoul from September 3 to 4. Reflecting their high interest in becoming a chef, many students with disabilities showed great interest in the Virtual Kitchen program, a kitchen exploring program presented by Softzen. Many of the nation’s job integration centers for people with disabilities are dedicated to supporting students with disabilities and helping them learn kitchen-related tasks in order to become chefs. However, there is often a shortage of these centers and necessary supplies, due to budget shortages and difficulties securing physical space.. The development of Virtual Kitchen by Softzen is expected to overcome some of these limitations by providing a space for students with disabilities to comfortably receive training. Virtual Kitchen is a kitchen task-exploring program made using virtual reality technology. Softzen created the program last year with production support from the Korea Creative Content Agency. Softzen is currently developing other special education contents especially for students with disabilities.

From Ingredient Preparation and Cooking to Greeting Guests

CEO Kim Yeon-pyo of Softzen said, “Virtual Kitchen, developed last year, and Virtual Barista, developed this year, are the most effective special education programs developed in recent years for people with disabilities.” Kim added, “These programs are functional games that provide specialized job training. Virtual Kitchen is a program that allows players to become familiar with tasks that will allow them to work professionally in a kitchen environment.”

CEO Kim added, “We are developing job training contents in the areas that students with disabilities are most interested in. We are doing our best to provide educational contents that help students actually learn. Thanks to the production support provided by the Korea Creative Content Agency, we were able to make the Virtual Kitchen program more realistic.”

2019 National Students with Disability E-festival. ⓒSoftzen

Cooking with Virtual Kitchen. ⓒSoftzen

CEO Kim Yeon-pyo said, “Using virtual reality technology, this program makes the students feel like they are actually experiencing tasks and processes in the kitchen, despite the fact that everything is taking place in a virtual space.” He added, “Learning and virtually experiencing the content has great educational effects. Since Virtual Kitchen provides educational content that is also entertaining, it is highly motivating and has great educational value.”

Virtual Kitchen consists of a training mode, in which the user prepares the ingredients and practices making desserts and main dishes, and a free mode, in which the user receives orders, cooks, and delivers the dishes. Through the program, students can learn how to prepare ingredients, cut, grill, cook, and even greet customers.

How a Gaming Company Started to Make Special Education Contents

How did Softzen develop an interest in producing special education contents? Softzen is a game company that originally made mobile and computer games. In 2010, the company started to become interested in providing special education contents for students with disabilities. CEO Kim Yeon-pyo recalls, “I wanted to make educational contents that help students with disabilities. The moment I realized that combining education with games could maximize certain educational effects, I delved into making our first program.”

Softzen began developing educational contents and, in 2012, created a functional language training game for students with disabilities called “Sound Land Great Adventure,” which it then supplied to the National Institute of Special Education. “Sound Land Great Adventure” is a role playing game for students with disabilities that trains players to effectively express themselves using language; the program focuses on syllables, pronunciation, and selecting language appropriate for different situations. The National Institute of Special Education highly praised the game for its ability to provide maximum educational benefits for students with disabilities.

Virtual Barista. ⓒSoftzen

After receiving such positive feedback, Softzen continued to develop special education contents. CEO Kim Yeon-pyo said, “While developing special education contents and games, my understanding of accessibility grew. I now feel like it’s my calling to develop games and contents for people with disabilities.”

Softzen actively utilizes recent technology to increase the competitive edge of its special education contents. CEO Kim explained, “Recently, changes in platform have been progressing more rapidly. We are designing and implementing virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence technologies to our contents, keeping up with current trends.” As a special education content provider, Softzen combines its skills and expertise with recent technology to develop new programs, such as Virtual Kitchen, which was released last year, and Virtual Barista, which was released this year.

Beam Project Game. ⓒSoftzen

In 2014 Softzen participated in the Development of Special Education Electronic Solutions and Server Development Project and the Special Education Functional Program Development Project for Students with Disabilities in cooperation with the National Institute of Special Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Korea Vaccination. The same year, the company also participated in the Assisting English Website Construction Project for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Korea. CEO Kim noted, “Recently, all of the projects that we have been involved in are for students with disabilities.” He added, “We plan on regularly providing strong educational contents for students with disabilities.”

Pioneer of Special Education Contents

Softzen plans to continue developing functional games and platforms for special education. Why is Softzen focusing so heavily on functional games, rather than on smartphone games or online games? CEO Kim Yeon-pyo answered saying, “The commercialized game market is already saturated, meaning it is hard for small- and medium-sized game companies to survive. Rather than competing in the conventional game market, the red ocean, Softzen will focus on the vertical market of the special education sector to pioneer the market and become a leader in the field.”

Softzen received a commission from the National Institute of Special Education last year, and has been working on the Software Education Program Development Project for the Disabled for the past two years. CEO Kim said, “Once this project is completed, students with disabilities in the four areas of visual impairment, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and hearing impairment will be able to receive systematic software education to better suit their needs.”

CEO Kim added, “In order to help people with disabilities develop their social adjustment skills, perception abilities and physical abilities, we are planning on developing a game that enhances these skills using a three-sided beam projector.” This game uses a ‘beam projector’ to create an environment that is similar to virtual reality without the need for a virtual reality headset. The game allows students with disabilities to experience various environments, such as a crosswalk, classroom, and convenience store, in a realistic space and to learn how to properly respond to different situations in each environment.

Lastly, Kim said, “We are designing a program to develop the large and small muscles of children that allows them to freely play in a concentrated environment and utilize their physical abilities.” Currently, Softzen is developing a virtual reality-based, online educational platform called Softzen OnLine Virtual Education (SOLVE). The SOLVE platform provides virtual classroom and special education applications for virtual reality education. Softzen is also continuing to develop functional job training programs.

“Rise up after you fall to take hold of another chance.”

CEO Kim Yeon-pyo of Softzen

Tell us about Softzen.

After I accumulated internet business experience by working on the first internet service project in Korea, the Sinbiro Internet Project, in 2002, I founded Softzen with a colleague under a new goal.

What is the management direction of the company?

Our objective is to conduct business that positively impacts people. We have maintained this belief ever since we first founded the company. We will continue to work on becoming a company that positively impacts society, starting with our employees.

What are some of the challenges of making educational contents for people with disabilities?

The greatest challenges we face are social prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities. When I said I wanted to make a functional game for people with disabilities using virtual reality, many people said, “Can people with disabilities even play that kind of game?”

What is it like to provide contents to students with disabilities?

Over the past ten years, I’ve interacted with students with disabilities at a number of special education sites and events. These students are capable of using games or machines that utilize recent technology as long as they have access to necessary information, communication devices, and/or games. It only took two minutes of simple training for elementary school students with development disorders to use their virtual reality controllers like pros. Students with disabilities can do it as long as they are provided with the right environment.

Is there any advice you would like to give to students with disabilities?

I love the saying, “Rise up after you fall to take hold of another chance.” There were times when I struggled with my business and wanted to give up after a particularly difficult situation. But each time when I persevered and rose up once again, a new opportunity found me. Set a goal and never give up. One day, you will be able to grab a chance of your own. It is difficult, but keep dreaming. Softzen will help you realize your dreams.