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ATU596 – Bridging Apps with Cristen Reat and Amy Barry

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:

Cristen Reat – Co-Founder and Program Director – Bridging Apps

Amy Barry – Digital Marketing Lead – Bridging Apps

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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Cristen Reat:
This is Cristen Reat.

Amy Barry:
And this is Amy Barry and we are with Bridging Apps and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 596 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 28th, 2022. On today’s show, we’re super excited to welcome Amy Barry and Cristen Reat from Bridging Apps from Easter Seals of Greater Houston in beautiful Houston, Texas. They’re on to tell us about Bridging Apps, the website, and an amazing new search tool that they’ve created to really help you streamline finding adaptive apps for individuals in your family, individuals you work with or maybe even for yourself.

Josh Anderson:
As always, listeners, we thank you for listening and remember, if you’d ever like to reach out to us with a question, a comment, or someone who would be great as an interview for the show, you can send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at (317) 721-7124 or hit us up on Twitter @indataproject. We always love hearing from you the good, the bad, and the ugly about the show, but remember we can’t make it any better without your input. So thank you so much for listening. Thank you for reaching out and let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, our guests today really need no introduction. They’ve been friends of this show for longer than I think I’ve been the host. Their Apps Worth Mentioning segments help to inform our listeners about great apps that can assist with all areas of life. Cristen Reat and Amy Barry here from Bridging Apps to talk about their website, their search tool, and all the amazing things they do along with some updates. Cristen, Amy, welcome to the show.

Cristen Reat:
Thanks so much for having us. We’re super excited to be here.

Josh Anderson:
And I am super excited to get to talk to y’all, but before we get into talking about Bridging Apps, the website, new search tool and all the amazing things, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves?

Cristen Reat:
So yeah, this is Cristen Reat. I am the co-founder and program director of Bridging Apps, which is both a website that we’re going to talk about in an in-person program here at Easter Seals Greater Houston, so down in Houston, Texas. I’m the parent of two children and my youngest son, who is now 19 years old, was born with Down syndrome and he also has a diagnosis of autism and a facial impairment. So all things technology that I am into are basically trying to help him figure out how to have a better quality of life. It’s a passion project of mine and so I’m literally always talking about how technologies can help people and it starts really with helping my own son.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. Amy, what about you?

Amy Barry:
I’ve been with Bridging Apps for eight years. I am the digital marketing lead. My background is in educational technologies and I have five children between the ages of 13 and 24 with various abilities. I have got my hands full with all kinds of things that go on with that and I am just very passionate about working with people with special needs and disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
Wow, five. Okay. I don’t feel so bad about my four now. I have a lot of sympathy. I know they’re amazing and very joyous, but five can be a little overwhelming sometimes. So enjoy the downtime on the podcast, I guess is what I can do.

Amy Barry:
Right.

Josh Anderson:
Well, now can you start by giving us just a little overview of what exactly is bridging apps?

Cristen Reat:
So this is Cristen, I’ll start just because I distinguished already between bridgingapps.org, which is our website and our in-person program. Basically we started as an in-person program. We were parents of young kids with different types of disabilities, so autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and we all were with our children in a therapy clinic and so our speech therapist and OT, we basically just started a support group to share information about different apps that were helping our kids that started with the iPad back in 2010. So the website came after that and the purpose of the website was to share the information that we were learning because not all parents and not all the therapists that we wanted to talk to could come to those in-person meetings. Being in Houston, transportation is sometimes a challenge and a lot of our kids have medical issues, so it was a way to share information among our group.

Cristen Reat:
So when we started the website in late 2010, early 2011, the website really took off and it was just sharing information from a disability perspective of early childhood learning apps. Everything that helped with fine motor and vision, cognition, communication was a big one, and just learning apps that our kids with these different disabilities we’re using. We were just really excited about it and we became part of Easter Seals in 2011 and found our forever home and just the program has grown. We have three assistive technology labs here in Houston where we have both traditional assistive technologies and computer stations and software as well as devices, smartphones, tablets, loaded with different apps that help people. We do in-person things and projects in a lot of different areas with a lot of different people, and then we use that to inform everything that we share out on our website.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. Well, thank you for the background. Now what’s new with Bridging Apps?

Amy Barry:
I will answer that. This is Amy and we are very excited about the new launch of our app search tool, which is separate from the bridgingapps.org. However, there is a link there to easily find it and what our app search tool is is it’s a site that allows users to shortcut the process for finding mobile apps. If you’ve been on the Apple App store, the Google Play store, it can be very overwhelming. Even if you just search for more specific things, it’s a lot. So our app search tool is there to help you help with that process. We do also have some web based tools and it’ll help with the sorting and filtering. We also have reviews, we have reviewers that review apps and so there are some apps which we consider valued apps have not yet been reviewed, but we either work with the developers, we’ve sort of taken time to vet them or check them out and make sure that what they would be a great fit for the site or for users of all abilities.

Amy Barry:
Then we also have some that have been reviewed by our team, doctors, therapists, educators, and even people with certain disabilities. We have a blind reviewer that reviews for us and he’s absolutely amazing. But anyways, the reviews are short how-tos, they talk about the app, how to use it, some of the main functions, features. Our users will share their experience with using the app, benefits, helpful features. We’re just really excited about this new Bridging Apps app search tool.

Josh Anderson:
I’m pretty darn excited about it as well. Talking about the reviews, how do you decide what apps to review?

Cristen Reat:
That’s a great question. We get app suggestions all of the time either from developers or just people in the community who write in and are curious about certain things. Autism generally is a big topic. Those who have visual impairments and just very well designed apps for education are hot topics. Generally we prioritize based on people asking us to review certain apps or trial them and then have reviews. We’re always looking for reviewers in different industries. We’ve done a lot of work recently in mental health for example. If somebody on our team or a reviewer outside of Easter Seals is reviewing for us and they feel really passionate about something or there’s maybe a big topic coming up, like right now, we’re taping this in October and it’s Augmentative Alternative Communication Awareness month, which is a fancy way of saying using technology to help with communication.

Cristen Reat:
It’s also Down syndrome awareness month. So these would be topics that we might prioritize and look for apps and promote different app lists to help for these different awareness groups or different groups where they may be looking for more solutions than they normally … a lot of app developers also put their apps on sale in the months of October, so it’s also a great time to purchase or consider purchasing some of those more expensive apps, especially for things like communication. It just depends, but we try to go to a calendar where we’re promoting and reviewing and sharing different apps for different groups of people.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s great. Now back to the app search tool, who would benefit from trying to use the app search tool in order to find some apps that might be able to assist them?

Amy Barry:
I would say everyone. Bridging Apps helps users to choose the apps for children and also adults that are appropriate, useful and life enhancing. Like I had mentioned before, with the overwhelming number of apps emerging on a daily basis, what would seem like a really simple task becomes challenging with children and adults who are developmentally or physically delayed, so it’s for everyone.

Josh Anderson:
That’s great because I had to do a presentation later this week and just looking for apps and even if you type in, it seems like, the name of one, it might not be the first hit or there’s five different ones with the same name and trying to get to what actually each one of them does can be a huge, huge challenge.

Amy Barry:
Exactly.

Cristen Reat:
I was just going to jump in and say that it really is the whole reason that we started Bridging Apps and manage this database. Looking for apps is generally overwhelming and sometimes people get disappointed if you’re just Google searching or let’s say you find a great website and there’s a list on there, often times when you click on the list, half of the apps are out of the app store because apps come and go. What we try to do at Bridging Apps is our database is about 2,400 apps right now and that does sound like a lot, but we’ve tried to make this new search tool a little bit simpler to use where you can simply type in a keyword, we have several different filters, not a ton of filters, but you can search by price, you can search by a platform.

Cristen Reat:
So let’s say you’re an Android user, you don’t care about any of those Apple products or Apple software, you can search just by Android. As Amy mentioned, we’ve added in just some purely web-based tools that we think are really great for people with different types of disabilities. We’ve tried to make it easy and for some people that’s still also pretty overwhelming, searching by price or even going by category. So again, you can either type into keyword or we spend a lot of time curating lists and putting different lists together. Sometimes we just recommend, “Hey, instead of being overwhelmed, just come and browse our lists that we’ve put together.” Again, for Down syndrome awareness month or autism awareness month or great education apps or great apps to support mental health and things like that.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, that’s awesome, because I mean not only can it be overwhelming with them all, whenever you mention the list, I know I’ll try to go find lists for shows or for anything, maybe for a special need or something that I’m looking for, you never know who curates those lists or if someone’s paying to be on the list or anything like that, because I notice it seems like if you look at … and maybe not apps, but the best new tech for the year or something, everybody’s got the same list or they’re in the same order with the links and everything and you always just wonder is that pay for play to raise up the list or is it really reviewed and actually looked at or is it just somebody copying? So it’s great that people can actually have a resource that they can go and do that quick search and actually get some sort of answer with an actual review from somebody really actually using it and telling you what it can do.

Amy Barry:
Yeah, I was going to add that that is one thing that makes us unique in that we do not accept paid advertising from app developers with the exception of occasional app promo codes for testing purposes. So that way we remain neutral and we can write honestly what we think about the apps.

Josh Anderson:
I think that’s very important, especially for folks with a disability or a child with a disability, friend, family member, something with a disability. There’s plenty of people out there that want to try to take advantage of you. It’s nice if you can have an unbiased voice to listen to every now and again.

Cristen Reat:
That’s been really important to us and something that we’re really grateful just to be part of Easter Seals that allows us to do that. We’re 100% grant funded and we take donations because it does take resources to keep the website going, to keep the app search tool, to keep the database going, to help pay a little something to reviewers who are willing to donate their time and energy and expertise to sharing these reviews within our system. That’s really important to us. The other thing that I’d love to mention that that is a new and improved aspect of the database that we run is for people who, again, are overwhelmed with looking for things and searching and sometimes get disappointed at the end of that search that maybe they didn’t find exactly what they needed. Within the Bridging App search tool, you can create a free account and you can save your searches.

Cristen Reat:
So let’s say, Josh, for that conference or that presentation that you’re putting together, you spend all this time and energy in doing a search and then creating a list. You can do a search and save your search and you can also create your own lists. You could have your favorite apps for whatever awareness month or your favorite apps for a particular conference and just save it forever and it’s private to you. You can also share it out as a link. You can share it with your coworkers and say, “Oh my gosh, look at this list I put together. I wanted it to be a resource for you.” There’s some really cool things that you can do. So again, not just for parents and caregivers but also professionals and therapists and assistive technology professionals too. Just anyone, a caregiver, could go in and create their favorite list or just save it and then read about all the information later to make decisions about what might be helpful for them in their situation.

Josh Anderson:
Amy, you talked about this a little bit earlier. I just want to dig in just a little bit deeper. You talked about all your different reviewers and how you’ve got them from all different kinds of places and how apps are picked to be reviewed. What does the review process look like as they maybe try out an app and review it? Just can you explain that process to me?

Amy Barry:
Yeah, so depending on what type of app, it’s going to come from the point of view of the reviewer. Like I said earlier, we have therapists, we have speech therapists that do reviews of AAC apps and OT apps. We have special education teachers that are going to be reviewing apps for their students or even them as teachers because there are a variety of apps for teachers. It just really depends and that person basically just uses the app with whatever setting that they’re in, trials it over a period of time and writes the app for us. There’s a narrative. They start out with just a short overview. They’ll do how-to describing how to use the app. They’ll talk about what features stand out from the app that make it different from other apps that may be similar. They give their reviewer experience and if they’re working with either children or somebody else, they may give some tips and tricks for how to use that app and then they just will basically rate it.

Amy Barry:
We do have a rating system between one and five and they will give that a rating as the reviewer. We also do have sort of a crowdsourcing option available on the site where you can visit the site and if you use the apps you can rate them one through five, so we sort of have two different rating systems there. that’s basically it.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. I like the way that you have the two different ratings on there so that you do get the reviewers but also the users, the folks that are out there actually using it day in and day out. That’s probably an easy way to find out glitches and issues and problems like that that individuals might have. So I like that you’re getting information from both of those sources on the different apps.

Josh Anderson:
Now we’ve got a little bit of time left, so I just wondered if either of you maybe had some apps that you’re excited about or some ones that were newer and/or maybe newer to you that you’re a little bit excited about. We can’t do a full on Apps Worth Mentioning segment like we usually do, but maybe just a quick mention if there are some out there that you’re a little bit excited about using or maybe know folks that are using to help them with access.

Cristen Reat:
This is Cristen. I love talking about apps all the time and I have too many favorites to even-

Josh Anderson:
I’m going to put you on the spot and see if I could get one out of you.

Cristen Reat:
Yeah, that’s really a tricky question and it’s so funny, we have a weekly team meeting and they’re very heated discussions about apps and which ones are our favorites and which ones are the most helpful. You ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different answers, which is why I really feel so passionately about the app search tool because there is no one best app. There are good apps, there are well designed apps, but only you as an individual can make that decision. I do have some favorites just that I use on a very regular basis that people can go check out as well as other ones, but one of them is not even a mobile app, it’s just a web-based tool that I think is great for caregivers and parents and for people who have maybe someone with dementia in their family or cognitive issues.

Cristen Reat:
It’s called If I Need Help and it is a tool where you can create an online profile with someone who may have memory issues and who may wander. So it creates individualized QR codes that can be then worn on the person’s body. So you can wear it on a shirt, you can have a sticker on your back, you can have a card in your purse and if that person gets separated from you in some way or if they’re nonverbal, it’s just a great safety tool where somebody else could scan a QR code or type in the individualized code onto any website, any phone, and then have just immediate contact information. That’s just a great one for safety.

Cristen Reat:
Another wonderful app that I love are the apps made by Special Eye apps, which started about 20 10, 2011 and they are out of the UK and they are developers who’ve developed learning apps for young children, mostly with Down syndrome but also with different cognitive challenges that are developing speech and language and are just very well designed apps. We feature those on our website because they’re research based, they’re very good. I’ve used them with my child when he was younger and those are a couple of my favorites, so I’ll turn it over to Amy.

Amy Barry:
We just did a feature. As a team, we take turns sharing our favorites or our staff picks and so I recently did this last week, in fact. I’d say probably my most used or my most favorite current app is Google Calendar. May not be what you’re expecting, but it definitely helps me to keep track of everyone, everything. It’s great for care caregivers, trying to keep track of appointments and all the different things that go along with that. But I also love Life360. It’s a tracking sort of, if you will, app that everyone in my family has and lets me know where everyone’s at. Then I also really, really like the app Calm, C-A-L-M. It’s a meditation app that helps reduce stress and it’s just a very simple, user-friendly, easy to use app. It provides instructions and meditating plus these guided daily meditations to help maintain a consistent routine. Then at night there’s these soundscapes from nature. So I love that. Yeah, those are my faves right now.

Josh Anderson:
Well, and I appreciate you both actually sharing those. I hope I didn’t cause any fights at the next staff meeting either for something that maybe you didn’t mention. But then also, Cristen, you brought up a really, really valid point there at the beginning of just how it’s so important, the actual user of the app. I’m sure you probably get the question that I get quite a bit of I know an individual, am an individual, something with insert disability here. What are some apps that can help me? There’s so many questions of will help you do what? There’s no magic bullet for an individual who’s visually impaired or has autism or anything like that. I think you brought up a great point there at the beginning just about it is the usability for the individual. It might help 99 out of 100 people, but the other person just needs something else. So I’m very, very glad that you mentioned that. I think that’s probably why having such a search tool that can give you so many different options is a great resource for people.

Cristen Reat:
That’s something we just feel really strongly about and we’re constantly asked what are the best apps out there and I have to disappoint people because I say best apps for who and just like in traditional assistive technology and best practice is person centered and so is feature matching. What’s important to you? Is price the most important to you if you’re looking at choosing something? Is platform most important to you? Is privacy most important to you? All these different components are important and that’s what we try … we spend a lot of time, and again, I’ll mention this, we’re always looking for different reviewers to donate, to give their time and to share their expertise to make the process a little bit easier for everybody else.

Cristen Reat:
So first and foremost, it is a shared community, which is why we think that having crowdsourced information about rating apps is so important. We have our opinion obviously, but then we really value what our community thinks too. So you would have that opportunity. Everything at Bridging Apps as far as using the search tool is free. We don’t charge anything. All of this is out there. You could rate an app and contribute to our community in that way. We would love for people to check it out and love to hear your feedback.

Josh Anderson:
Well, along those same lines, where do they go to check all these things out to provide feedback, to find the app search tool and all these other amazing things?

Cristen Reat:
Most people can start by just going to www.bridgingapps.org and right on the homepage, on the front page, it says app database and app search and that takes you straight into the database where, again, you land on a homepage and can start filtering or literally checking out a list or typing in a keyword. That’s where they can get started.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We will put a link to that down in the show notes so that folks can easily get there and check these all out. Well Amy, Cristen, I can’t thank you both enough for coming on the show, telling us about everything, about Bridging Apps, about your new app search tool, the way that everything’s done, and really just for all the great things you do and really even the help of the podcast and the Apps Worth Mentioning and the other segments that you do for us. So thank you both so much.

Amy Barry:
Thank you so much for having us, Josh.

Cristen Reat:
Thank you so much. We really value our partnership and hope to bring many, many more apps worth mentioning to the podcast. So thanks so much for having us.

Josh Anderson:
We’ll look forward to sharing those with our listeners. Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an assistive technology update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org or shoot us a note on Twitter @indataproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com.

Josh Anderson:
A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easters Seals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host. This was your assistive technology update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easters Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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