Hiki, the first dating and friendship app specifically for the autistic community, launched publicly July 16.
The mobile app aims to foster romantic and platonic relationships between adults with autism -- the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world.
Although 70 million people across the globe live with autism, founder Jamil Karriem, 28, said the autistic community is often overlooked.
“Autism... as a neurological disorder is not new, but awareness within that world is definitely something that is just happening now,” Karriem said. “We're long overdue for a tremendous amount of investment and time... in this community so [they] can flourish and lead happy lives.”
Karriem created the app for his cousin Tyler, a 22-year-old with autism. Tyler told Karriem he was afraid he would never find his soulmate and have a family. Karriem, who had just ended a long-term relationship, shared his cousin’s fear for the future, but realized their experiences were not the same.
“While we both felt scared of the unknown, and we both yearned for meaningful connection — I had a myriad of platforms (both digital and physical) at my disposal where I could put myself out there,” Karriem wrote on Medium. “...[Tyler] didn’t.”
So the cousins decided to build the app themselves.
Hiki, meaning “able” in Hawaiian, offers a space for people with autism to connect and celebrate their uniqueness as individuals while embracing their shared experiences of being on the spectrum.
To ensure the app represented the needs of users, Karriem ran every part of the process by the advisory board, comprised of two adults with autism and three educators with extensive experience working with children on the spectrum. One of the app designers also has autism.
Every detail of Hiki was developed with the autistic community in mind. According to Karriem, many people on the spectrum experience sensory overload when presented with bright colors, flashing lights or abrupt changes, so Hiki offers simple design layouts and user-friendly, step-by-step tutorials.
Two weeks ago, Hiki launched a beta test with a few hundred users, including Tyler. Karriem said Tyler regularly updates him on all of the new friends he has made, and Tyler is happy that this product finally exists.
“Finding friendships and finding love… really shouldn't be a privilege,” Karriem said. “It should be a right. It's time that the autistic community is able to have access to all the incredible things that those of us that are neurotypical do.”