Tag Archives: BridgingApps

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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Miraculous Megan: Longtime Client and Friend

Megan Fry is an amazing 17 year old girl. She has been part of the Easter Seals Greater Houston family for over 10 years. She has the mind and the personality of a typical developing teenage girl. She loves art and has her own website, Just My Eye, that meg-w-dvox-300x225showcases her creations. One of Megan’s many unique qualities is that she was born with cerebral palsy, with an end result of being nonverbal and using a wheelchair to maneuver around. You need to be careful because she drives her chair around very fast! She communicates and shows off her big personality by using a Tobii. The Tobii is a device that allows Megan to use her eyes to pick out her words which are then shared through the speaker.

Over the years, Megan has attended our summer camps, participated in Family Day Out, received In-Home Respite, and participated in our BridgingApps program. Her family has participated in our Lil’ Rustler Rodeo night with the Houston Livestocgroupk Show and Rodeo, used a Respitality weekend, participated in our Walk With Me at the Houston Zoo event and our Hats Off to Mother’s Luncheon. We were fortunate to have Megan as our summer intern this past year. She created and distributed our Easter Seals Montgomery County newsletter. Megan is currently participating in our Family Day Out program as a Junior Director. She is amazing with our clients and our families.


Megan is a true success story and ambassador for Easter Seals Greater Houston. Megan and her mom even went on speaking engagements last year to represent Easter Seals during the United Way campaign. She has received services and continues to give back to our community. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Megan because we know there is nothing she can’t accomplish!

Kristie Carlisle, Respite Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Check out Megan’s dad’s post about how assistive technology helped him connect with his daughter here!

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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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Richard’s Success Story

richardMeet Richard, an energetic and determined little seven-year-old boy whose favorite person in the world is his eleven-year-old sister Camille. Every morning, without fail, Richard bolts across the upstairs landing at our home to crawl into Camille’s bed and wake her up with slobbery kisses and tight, tight hugs. As his parents, we would say that any day spent with “the Big Boy” is one filled with affection, enthusiasm, and discovery. He has changed the lives and the character of every member of our family and continues to shape the ways they interact with the world each and every day.

Richard deals with significant cognitive delays related to Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and epilepsy. In addition, he battles physical limitations related to celiac disease, asthma, and a thyroid deficiency. Through it all, though, Richard maintains an incredibly enthusiastic approach to life and transfers that enthusiasm to everyone with whom he comes into contact.

Richard has been using an iPad to communicate wants and needs for about three years thanks to Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s BridgingApps. He started with a full-sized iPad and now uses an iPad Mini. Richard’s ability to communicate using his iPad has changed his life immeasurably. No longer are his day-to-day needs trapped inside his own head. He can actively tell family members or caregivers what he would like to do, what he wants to eat, and even with whom he would like to do these activities. Most of the time, the person he asks for is his Mommy. The sense of autonomy that the iPad affords Richard is dramatic. His frustration level when it comes to articulating his thoughts has diminished significantly, and the resulting joy that is at the core of his personality takes center stage with more regularity.

We could not be the parents we want to be for Richard without his iPad and without the autonomy and independence it affords him. We no longer have to wonder what our little boy wants or needs. He is able to tell us, and he does so emphatically. As he has become more adept at using the iPad, Richard’s sense of humor (which was hidden for his first five years) has also begun to emerge. Turns out, he is a mischievous little rascal, which only endears him to us more.

Once Richard showed an inclination toward using the iPad, we decided to change speech therapists and began to see Betsy Furler at BridgingApps exclusively. She has been an invaluable resource to us and to Richard as she continually challenges him (and us) to lean into the device and its possibilities. Over the course of the time that we have worked with Betsy and BridgingApps, Richard’s acuity with the iPad has increased tenfold, and his abilities to express himself in more and more complex ways have allowed his personality to emerge and his quality of life to improve.

Cristen Reat, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Founder

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Bridging the Gap between Technology and People with Disabilities

As a parent of a son with Asperger’s and a son with Down syndrome, Cristen Reat is always looking for ways to use technology and apps to help her children in their daily lives. Cristen co-founded BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, to help create a community of parents, therapists, doctors, teachers, and people with disabilities who share information about using mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) to improve the lives of people with special needs.

Caring for someone who has a disability, chronic illness, disease or injury can be demanding and overwhelming, but an extra pair of hands can be as close as the smart phone in your pocket. Whether you are a doctor, nurse, therapist, parent of a child with a disability or even a spouse of someone who had a stroke, there are many types of apps that can be used to manage information, assist with communication and improve health outcomes.

BridgingApps helps people of all ages and abilities learn how the devices they use every day can be leveraged to improve their physical, cognitive, and social outcomes. By providing app reviews based on skills, rather than age or diagnoses, caregivers and professionals can focus first on identifying the skills they are looking to address (such as writing or communication), and then on ways to use mobile devices and apps to develop and improve them.

Focus on Skills: Meet MiaMia

Mia is a 7-year-old with an undiagnosed disability, and she is non-verbal. Mia has been working with BridgingApps and a speech therapist for the past year learning to use an iPad mini paired with a communication app to enable her to “talk” with her family, friends and classmates.  Below she tells her mom what she will do at school.


Mia7Prolqouo2Go, the app shown above, is just one of a number of apps that can be used to help improve communication skills for a range of situations. For example, adults who have suffered a stroke or children who are temporarily or permanently non-verbal (such as a child on a ventilator) may also need to address the same skill of communication to help direct and understand their care, reduce frustration and stay connected.

Using Apps to Track and Manage Health Conditions 

In addition to helping Mia find her voice, BridgingApps empowers caregivers and professionals by assessing apps to track and manage chronic health conditions.

Many people with disabilities have medical issues that can be complicated and overwhelming to manage.  Below are a few examples of health-related apps that BridgingApps has trialed and found successful with people who have disabilities:

Seizure Log – logs data on seizures and keeps records to manage epilepsyseizure_log3

Blood Pressure Companion – tracks blood pressure, heart rate, and weightbp_companion_screenshot


For many caregivers and healthcare professionals, mobile devices can be a powerful tool in integrating a care team and engaging the patient in their own care. With thousands of apps coming onto the market every day, BridgingApps’ goal is to help users of all abilities find technology solutions to develop skills, reach goals, and reach their full potential.

Learn more about BridgingApps or search for apps to meet your needs at www.bridgingapps.org.

By Evan Jones, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Marketing & Development

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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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BridgingApps and The Adult Program Redefine “iPad Masters”

In December 2012, a generous anonymous donation of 17 iPads, cases and iTunes cards were gifted to the participants of the Easter Seals Adult Program. BridgingApps had the pleasure of working with the clients of the Adult Program 1-2 times per month on how to use the iPads. Throughout the year, they learned how to select and use apps on the iPad to enhance their lives.  January marked the one year anniversary of using the iPads, and we held a celebration to recognize and award the participants on their excellent progress. We decided that all deserved to graduate with the title of “iPad Master”. The event would not have been complete without a cake.cristen march betsy_frank

Some of the topics covered during the year were iPad orientation, set up, downloading apps and using assistive features. We introduced Assistive Touch, which allows easier access for those with fine motor challenges, and Zoom for those who need large print. Everyone enjoyed trialing styli of different shapes and sizes from our Assistive Technology Lab to write on the tablets.  One of the more challenging aspects of using the tablets was remembering our Apple ID’s and passwords. It is amazing how quickly those can be forgotten. Once everyone got his or her accounts and emails set up we moved on to the fun stuff. Some of our favorite activities were:

cristen march photo 2Taking pictures, Using the calendar, Making videos, Sharing photos via social media, Printing photos using apps, entering the contact information of friends and family, Using Facetime to video conference with friends and family

Favorite apps: Facebook, PicCollage, Beep Me, Do It, iBooks, CNN

What did the participants have to say about their iPads? All of them responded that they love it and have adopted them into their lives for use in many daily tasks and activities. The participants all expressed their gratitude.  When asked about their experience, Rhonda said she is thankful that she can now order her Mecristen march Troy_with_spherotrolift online using her iPad. It is so much easier to accomplish the task with the touch of her finger versus relying on someone to make the call for her. Michael benefits from playing brain games on Luminosity. Jennifer is delighted that she can now download Stephen King books and enlarge the print to her liking. Brian began using Proloquo4text as a quick way to communicate with his friends and family. And, Robert loves playing Words with Friends.

It has been a joy watching the evolution of their skills and enjoyment over the course of one year and the creative outlet and social connections that using the iPad has provided. Collaborating with Betsy Wechter on the iPad project has been phenomenal, and we look forward to another fabulous year of learning in 2014. The program volunteers have also helped enormously and had a bit of fun in the process!

Cristen Reat, Co-Founder, BridgingAPPS, ESGH Staff & Proud Mom!

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