Where there's a wheel, there's a way

Born with brittle bone disease, he fractured his right leg more than five times in primary school.

Since then, Mr Mohamed Najulah has used a wheelchair for his own safety.

"In the hospital, my mum would tell me in tears that everything will soon go back to normal and these were but small obstacles I could overcome," the Singapore Polytechnic (SP) student, 21, told The New Paper.

These experiences would later help him develop an award-winning web-based app called Happy Wheel.

Mr Najulah joined SP as part of its pioneer Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) in 2013. He studied business information technology and will graduate in May with more than 800 other PFP students.

The idea for the app came after he went for a talk at the Microsoft building at Marina Boulevard and realised his route there from the MRT station was full of barriers and steps.

He started developing Happy Wheel at his first hackathon, the Transport and You(th) Hackathon in April 2015. The app taps on publicly available data sets and Google to suggest wheelchair-friendly paths. It also allows users to share convenient paths for other wheelchair users.


Happy Wheel won the People's Choice award at the hackathon and was even highlighted on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page after he attended the event.

Mr Najulah said: "I was so nervous meeting him... and was honoured that he featured it."

He is still working on the app with seven coursemates.

The PFP is a through-train programme introduced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the polys in 2013 for top performing Normal (Academic) students, said Ms Chao Yunn Chyi, director of SP's School of Mathematics & Science, which coordinates SP's PFP.

Students enrolled in the PFP will skip their fifth year in secondary school and move directly into poly.

Upon completion of the PFP, they will start on their full-time diploma courses as other poly-bound students.

MOE data shows that across the polys, 99.5 per cent of the pioneer PFP batch made it to their diploma course.

Mr Najulah has just finished an internship at A*STAR's Institute of High Performance Computing where he assisted in research to create barrier-free access for wheelchair users.

He aspires to continue developing apps that will be useful to society, and advises other people with disabilities: "There is no challenge that is insurmountable, there will always be an alternative way out.

"You just need to find it."


This article was first published on March 1, 2017.
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