Tag Archives: at&t

The SMART Road To Assistive Tech for ALL

In 2010, I was working at an educational non-profit when I helped to start a support group of parents and therapists where we shared information on how smartphones and touch tablets could help children with disabilities improve developmental skills. I was interested in how technology could help my youngest son Vincent, who at the age of 6 had the fine motor skills of an 18 month old. I knew that he would never write with a pen and paper, but I also knew that technology could play a big role in his early education and throughout his life.

Vincent had tried joysticks and other technology prior to the tablet to write and communicate, but he needed hand over hand assistance to operate them. However, with the iPad he was able to navigate independently. What a boost to his confidence and an ease to his frustration!

Other parents and therapists had similar thoughts but, because this mobile technology was so new, we spent hours exploring possibilities of which apps were the most helpful for our kids. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of apps available, so we set out to find a way to make searching easier for parents and professionals. That support group and quest for solutions turned into BridgingApps, a website and program of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

Becoming part of Easter Seals Greater Houston has been a blessing in the most profound way for this program and for our family. With the help of Easter Seals’ leadership and vision to help the program grow as quickly as possible, we have been able to make great strides in its’ development and reach. In 2014, BridgingApps won the Verizon Powerful Answers Award for Education that came with a $700,000 prize.  Our website is filled with resources for people of all ages and abilities – parents, caregivers, therapists, doctors and people with disabilities – looking for the right apps to fit their needs.

We now have three assistive technology labs (Thanks to The George Foundation and ATT&T) in the Houston area and satellite support groups in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Fort Worth, Texas.  In 2016, we gave more than 55 presentations and trainings in Houston and around the country. Our website enjoys 9,000 registered users from 187 countries, 7,000 monthly visitors, a podcast segment, an online course, a regular column in a digital magazine, and 3,500 apps in our database. We are excited to explore new ways in which mobile technology can assist young adults with special health care needs, older adults, and seniors through collaborative projects with Texas Children’s Hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, Amerigroup/Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As a veteran of the US Army, I am thrilled and honored this year to be working on a project that provides services and mental health supports to veterans and their families by using technology. Through a generous grant from TV+FA, we are able to provide technology training in different formats to veterans and their family members.  This spring we have already provided 10 Veterans Access Cafes in locations around Houston to demonstrate how smartphones can be used as a mental health support with apps like Calm, Swirlicity, and Stay Quit Coach. We continue to add content each week to www.bridgingapps.org/veteransresource  to share information on apps and other technologies that benefit veterans and their families.

Cristen Reat, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Founder


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From Fear to Confidence: Rudy’s Unexpected Journey with Technology

I met Rudy and his wife Andrea in April 2015, when BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, presented at the St. Luke’s Stroke Support Group on using apps and mobile devices. Like many who were recovering from a stroke, Rudy was interested in how technology could help him, but also overwhelmed by the idea.

“I was resistant because I thought it was too hard,” Rudy confides. “After my stroke, I thought learning was over. I really did.”  When asked what was difficult for him, he gave the example of reading. Rudy loves to read, but post-stroke the task of reading was not pleasurable as it had been before, just extremely difficult.  He would read something, lose his place often and not understand what he just read. It was frustrating and demoralizing.

Wanting to learn more and despite feeling overwhelmed, Rudy and Andrea attended a BridgingApps open house event in the spring, took a tour of the AT&T Assistive Technology lab and asked many questions about how mobile devices stroke_support_st._lukes-300x225might be used. “It would take me a hundred years to learn everything,” Rudy declared. I offered to lend Rudy an iPad to try it out for a month at home to see what he thought of it. Rudy was appreciative, but noncommittal and politely declined. I then suggested another option that might less stressful and invited Rudy and his wife to attend BridgingApps monthly collaborative training at the Apple Store Highland Village. These meetings take place in a distraction-free, low stress accessible room with compassionate, knowledgeable staff.

Rudy and Andrea attended the monthly classes facilitated by BridgingApps at the Apple Store. Though neither of them owned a mobile device, they came eager to learn each month and borrowed different sized devices for the hands-on trainings, including an iPhone, iPod Touch and full sized iPad. We covered everything from the accessibility features of iBooks, to speak screen, using Siri for shortcuts, calendar and notes apps and how to navigate the basics of the device. Rudy diligently took notes at each class, and Andrea was excited about his interest. Andrea said that she enjoyed the slow pace of the class and the fact that the instructor repeats instructions and simplifies them for participants.

One month in the fall, Rudy’s daughter Teresa and her husband attended the BridgingApps training together with Rudy and Andrea to see what her parents were up to. They shared a device, asked questions and practiced the various tasks. Throughout this process, Rudy began to relax and said “the whole experience has made me more aware of what my capabilities are. When I experienced the features of iBooks that allows the words to be read aloud to me, sped up or slowed down and highlighted as I go along, that was amazing to me! It really helped a lot, and if I don’t understand something or lose my place, with the touch of the screen I can hear it again and again.  I feel more confident.”

Fast forward to our monthly training in January 2016, where Rudy proudly whips out an iPhone 6 Plus and places it on the table next to his notebook ready to learn. Andrea giggles and puts her brand new device on the table. After class when I asked when they bought their devices, they answered “In December, Teresa said ‘enough’ and bought them for us!”  I asked how Rudy felt about having a smartphone and what he has been doing with it, he positively glows. “I love it. I read the news, I check the weather, I look at maps, and I FaceTime with my grandson who lives in Brownsville.”

Feb 2016 BA blog picAndrea chimes in “The other day I heard piano music, and there he was playing the piano using Garage Band.” Rudy laughs and adds “I love music and majored in it in school, so I discovered this app. It is fantastic.”

Next steps for Rudy and Andrea? “We love the classes and will continue to come. We are grateful for all that we have learned.”

Having watched this journey unfold and observing Rudy’s initial excitement, fear, hesitation, followed by determination and courage, it has been a privilege to get to know Rudy and his family. Andrea mentions that BridgingApps and this technology has opened up new horizons for Rudy that have surprised and delighted her.

“I really can learn again,” says Rudy with tears in his eyes.

Cristen Reat, BridgingApps Founder, Easter Seals Greater Houston

For more information on our BridgingApps program, click here.
To hear more about Rudy’s amazing story, click here.

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App Developers Needed! Spread The Word!

Can you shortly explain the mission of BridgingApps is doing and where the motivation for its foundation came from? cristen march betsy_frank

BridgingApps’ mission is to bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities. Recently developed mobile technology, if properly used, has the ability to empower people of all ages with disabilities to reach their fullest potential. These touch-based, low-cost, commercially available tools can augment or, in some limited cases, replace traditional therapies, expensive equipment, and/or curricula, leading to better physical, educational, and social outcomes for people of all ages.

BridgingApps began as a support group of parents of young children with special needs and therapists who were exploring how these devices paired with apps could help build skills and address developmental goals. We immediately saw the power of the technology for engaging, motivating, and allowing our children to independently control an educational tool in astonishing ways. We joined Easter Seals Houston to help extend the reach of our work.

L1000552How do you select and evaluate the apps that you are appraising every month? 

Anyone can submit an app to be reviewed on our website. We value our community of parents, therapists, doctors, teachers, people with disabilities, assistive technology professionals, and developers and have received suggestions from all of these groups.

What sets our app reviews apart from other review sites is although anyone can rate and comment on apps housed on our site, only professionals can write an app review. Our reviewers are speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers and AT professionals. We use standards-based measures to assess an app, and one of the requirements is that they must trial the app with at least one person who has a disability before they write a review. A BridgingApps app review has such valuable information that we consider them to be mini-trainings. We view our site to be a shortcut for finding apps for specific needs.

If you could address the whole app developer community at once, what would be your key message to them? 

Our message would be to please keep in mind Universal Design principles and user customization when developing products. Good design with considerations (to the greatest extent possible) for everyone regardless of age, ability or status in life means that all users benefit!

What advice would you give to a person searching for mobile accessibility solutions? 2013 urtalker3

Always consider what goals you have in mind when looking for a particular solution. We find that many people unintentionally make purchasing mistakes because they don’t fully consider which specific goals they are trying to achieve. Instead of buying a device and/or software first, then looking to see what it can do for you, make a list of goals that you have or tasks you need to do and then match those with the features of a device and apps. For example, many parents of children who are non-verbal have purchased an e-reader thinking they could load a sophisticated communication app on it, but have been disappointed to find out that particular app is not available for that platform.

What is your vision for the future for BridgingApps

We hope to grow our community of shared knowledge to become a recognized center of excellence in mobile device technology for people with special needs. Our long-term goal is to become the premier website where people of all ages with disabilities and those who support them come to find mobile technology solutions that includes training, best practices and original research to enhance lives.

On a side note – we were proud to have just co-hosted our first ever At&T “Hackathon”.  So many amazing things were learned, shared and created by all present. Stay tuned for our next one in the fall or email us if you are interested in attending, volunteering or sponsoring.

By Cristen Reat, BridgingApps.org, Co-Founder, BridgingApps – A Program of Easter Seals Greater Houston

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The Power of Access and Technology

IMG_1057As a Social Work Intern at Easter Seals Greater Houston, I am always astounded by the wonderful opportunities that our support services and resources provide to our clients. I wanted to take the time to share with everyone the transformation I have seen in our adult clients in the LEAD (Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities) through the assistance of technology.

We recently received new IPADS for the program (thank you anonymous donor from National Charity League!, AT&T and Comcast), and the elation of “owning” a new, shiny, and most importantly, customizable and current device is continuously evident on all of our client’s faces. Everyone in our program, even our most senior of members, have quickly learned how to use this new tool to expand their independence through communication, education, and social apps. We have worked together, along with our Apps expert in our BridgingApps program, to personalize and meet the needs of our clients. There is a visible increase in confidence in everyone’s eyes and they are so excited to be able to take part in so many things that they have been hearing about…why should they be excluded? Being able to access and use an IPAD has made our clients feel empowered, more in control and more a part of A COMMUNITY.IMG_1053 I felt this defining moment after learning that my clients were using their Ipads while making their long trips to their destinations on Metrolift or to plan social events and activities. Another experience was learning that some of our clients were using the Ipad apps to find more customizable voices for communication! Everyone was happy to find out that they could choose warmer, more human voices instead of the generic ones available on other AAC devices . This allowed them to choose how they wanted to be represented via their technology communication. The opportunity to use IPADS for our adult program has really made a difference in their lives. This tool has allowed for more independence and learning that is matched to each user’s interests and goals.

Emmony Pena, Social Work Intern, Easter Seals Greater Houston, from U of H Graduate Collage of Social Work

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Cutting Edge Technology and The Power of a Parent

We at Easter Seals Greater Houston have countless stories of our clients with disabilities who are non-verbal and who were previously thought to not be at the same cognitive level of their peers, actually be cognitively higher than their peers but just needing the outlet of communication devices.  Many of our clients and their families live below the poverty level, simply due to care-giving issues and medical bills – placing expensive communication devices out of their reach. We are incredibly proud of our AT&T Assistive Technology Lab, which allows anyone in our community who has the need to try out assistive technology to be able to do so with assistance and guidance and with no charge,  and our BridgingApps.org program, which was conceived, implemented and expanded only because of a few incredible parents and their sheer will and determination.  We our especially proud of the parents who when faced with a stumbling block, figure out a way around it and share it with the world. This is one of the cases.  Thank you to all of you.   Family, friends, parents, teachers, counselors, schools and employers, etc – take a look at the training, curriculum, evaluation capabilities and therapist reviewed apps that have come out of the combination of parents and the cutting edge technology that is in the forefront of our world today.

Our son Nolan, has been non-verbal for the last 11 years. We have been working with him since the age of one on speechnolan utilizing a wide range of speech therapy, different therapists, and a wide assortment of assistive technology also known as Augmentive and Alternative Communication devices (AAC). Over the last five years we have incorporated a huge number of apps for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad into Nolan’s speech communication tools.  We noticed that although Nolan could not speak, he began to communicate with us by showing us pictures on our smartphones. We wondered if we could design and create an app that could organize pictures in a simple, but intuitive way to facilitate what Nolan was trying to communicate. This is how urTalker Pro was developed. Many non-verbal, autistic and special needs individuals have the ability to learn and use assistive technology, but the price for specific devices can be prohibitive. urTalker was developed to be affordable .

We were invited to share information about our app at a BridgingApps monthly meeting and appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate how the app works and provide a copy for the AT&T Assistive Technology Lab at Easter Seals Greater Houston. Families and professionals are welcome to try out the app in the lab and give us feedback. We believe this is only the beginning, and we plan to develop additional apps, specifically one in Spanish and one targeted to those recovering from strokes.  urTalker Pro is a fully featured communication app providing affordable augmentative and alternative communication. This assistive technology app comes with fully customizable grid or “board” style views for categories and words allowing the user to grow with the app. You can start with simple 1 or 2 word communication views and move all the way up to 16 grid displays for advanced communication needs.

2013 urtalker3urTalker allow you to leverage the camera and audio on the iPad to add your own picture and sounds so individuals can fully personalize the app with their home, food, therapy or related items that help them communicate.  Our applications are designed to help individuals with communication disabilities have a voice. Our communication apps are designed to become a portable communication device that is fully customized to that individual. Whether it is a child or an adult our apps are designed for simple to complex communication and easy to configure. While every urTalker communication app comes with default categories and images, every app provides the ability to create any number or additional categories, load any type of image and most importantly record your voice for use with those images and words.

Ryan and Jody Farris
For more information please visit urTalker and BridgingApps

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