Interview with Anna Moyer, creator of Your Special Chef

Interview with Anna Moyer, creator of Your Special Chef

Several months ago I stumbled across Your Special Chef, an easy-to-use website with leveled recipes and instructions for introducing the recipes to individuals with special needs. The website is thorough, provides recipes for multiple categories such as snacks and desserts, and includes picture instructions. It’s a ready-to-use resource that is useful for working with a wide range of skill levels and ages.

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I recently had the opportunity to connect with Anna Moyer, the creator of Your Special Chef. She is currently in her last year of a dual Bachelor’s/Master’s program in biology at the University of Alabama, where she is studying Parkinson’s disease in a fruit fly model system. She is planning to pursue a PhD in neurobiology or human genetics and would like to continue in researching the molecular bases underlying diseases with genetic components. While she’s pretty busy with her studies, she says she’s always happy to hear suggestions for how she can make Your Special Chef a more useful resource for those with disabilities.

You created this website for your Girl Scout Gold Award project. What inspired you to focus on cooking skills for individuals with special needs?
My little brother has Down Syndrome and I originally made a few recipes to teach him basic cooking skills. When we started, he had no concept of cooking as a process, and now he can independently prepare snacks for himself. I had connections to a life skills classroom in which I’d volunteered, so I thought that expanding the recipes and testing them in the summer session at my local middle school would be a great opportunity for a Gold Award project that I was personally passionate about doing.
Can you describe the process of creating the website?
I first made a few recipe prototypes and showed them to life skills teachers who gave me helpful suggestions for changes to make. I then made more recipes and lesson guides, tested them out in a life skills classroom, and posted them online. I continued adding recipes and resources for the next two years as I received feedback from parents and teachers who use the recipes. I also received a grant from “Do Something” to help test adaptive cooking equipment.
You include picture instructions and lesson guides for most of the recipes. Who helped you organize and create the information?
For the most part, I created all of the picture instructions by myself. I talked to an occupational therapist, family and consumer science teachers, and life skills teachers about what I should include in the lesson guides in the general, and wrote the individual guides based upon these suggestions. I wrote the other resource articles by researching the topics in textbooks, on the internet, and anywhere else I could find useful information.
What was the most interesting and/or challenging part of putting the website together?
The most challenging part of putting the website together was balancing the time spent on the website with my other activities- each recipe took about three hours to create, and I made the website while I was finishing high school and applying to colleges. In the end, though, it was a very rewarding experience!
Anything else you’d like me to know about the project?
I’m in the process of totally redesigning the website to be more accessible for individuals with disabilities to navigate and to be mobile and tablet friendly. I’m working with a professor at my university’s college of education to survey those who use Your Special Chef and find out what features should be added. I’m also working with a computer science student to add a recipe creator web application that parents and teachers can use to make and share their own visual recipes.
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