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Connect with Sam – A messaging system for teenagers with intellectual disability

‘CONNECT WITH SAM’ –  A messaging system for teenagers with an intellectual disability

In 2016 Christchurch Occupational Therapist Anne Bridgman discovered a useful App called ‘Viber’ which allows people to communicate through phone, or text messaging.

The App allows users to send colourful, fun ‘stickers’ to family and friends easily without the need for a high level of literacy knowledge or hand function.  It was immediately apparent that this simple method of sending a text message could have a valuable application with the students Anne was working with in special education.

The teenage students all had an intellectual disability and difficulty with literacy and fine motor skills found texting slow and frustrating. Many students found phone keyboards small and difficult to navigate around or their literacy skills could not meet demands required to understand an incoming text or formulate a text to send.

When the students were tested using the sticker method the students could easily find the sticker they wanted and send it with one tap on the phone screen.

This opened up a world of communication potential for many students.

The existing ‘Sticker Packs’ at that stage were fun but didn’t have enough practical communicative content. With help from a colleague, Jenny Gosney, Anne contacted Viber Communications to discuss the possibility of customizing a package of stickers to meet the needs of teenage students with intellectual disabilities in New Zealand.

Viber were immediately on board with the project and over the following 6 months the design team and Anne worked on creating a package of 36 stickers that would allow users to send greetings, ask for help, inform family members of their whereabouts, ask and answer simple questions.

The character created to front the sticker package was ‘Sam’ and the sticker package ‘Connect with Sam” was created

It was important that Sam was seen as ‘cool’, age appropriate and not childish and that the graphics were clear and simple to understand.

Black and yellow were chosen as the predominant colours for the stickers to support students with visual difficulties and the graphics designed to give as much information as possible about what the image represented without being too cluttered.

Some of the stickers used written text also but this was kept to a minimum and designed to support students understanding without overwhelming the image with text.

Students so far have found engaging with this method of messaging easier and less frustrating and they are able to keep in touch with family and friends when accessing the community independently or just for fun !!

To access this technology you download the free Viber App on to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Once this complete you can enter the ‘Sticker market’ and select the sticker package you want.

‘Connect with Sam’ is a free to install package and once installed can be used exclusively to communicate or in conjunction with other stickers or to supplement text written by the student.

Viber have assured me that this package will always be free to install which removes cost as a barrier to successful communication.  The user does need a basic smartphone and data or wifi connection.

This technology is perfect for many young people with intellectual or physical difficulties and offers a solution to staying in touch with family and friends, increasing social connections and safety when out and about in the community.

It is possible that this type of communication method could be useful for other groups eg people with spinal injuries, neurological conditions, the elderly.

Viber will customize sticker packages specifically for these groups. For more information please contact

Anne Bridgman [email protected]

Occupational Therapist

Ferndale School  Christchurch