This is Cristen Reat.
And this is Amy Barry and we are with BridgingApps, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
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 Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 657 of Assistive Technology Update.
It is scheduled to be released on December 29th, 2023. Listeners, as we bid farewell to 2023, we’re actually going back for an interview from 2022 featuring the folks from BridgingApps. As you know, BridgingApps is a very important part of this show, as they’ve been our partners for a very long time providing our Apps Worth Mentioning segments, which you hear throughout the year.
As a little holiday treat is, of course, we’re all pretty much off work this week. I believe most folks probably are as well, but I really hope you’re enjoying some time with family or doing hopefully something that you actually want to do during this time. Hope you all have a wonderful, happy and safe New Year, as we go back and listen to our interview with Cristen Reat and Amy Barry from BridgingApps telling us all about their program.
The great things that they do and the partnership with them for Apps Worth Mentioning. As always, folks, we thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day and a very Happy New Year. Listeners, our guest today really need no introduction. They’ve been friends of the 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 are here from BridgingApps 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.
Thanks so much for having us. We’re super excited to be here.
I am super excited to get to talk to you all. But before we get into talking about BridgingApps, the website, new search tool and all the amazing things, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves?
Yeah, this is Cristen Reat. I am the co-founder and program director of BridgingApps, which is both a website that we’re going to talk about and an in-person program here at Easterseals 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. He also has a diagnosis of autism and a visual impairment. 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.
Awesome. Amy, what about you?
I’ve been with BridgingApps for eight years. I am the digital marketing lead. My background is in educational technologies. 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. I am just very passionate about working with people with special needs and disabilities.
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. Enjoy the downtime on the podcast, I guess, is what I can do.
Well, now can you start by giving us just a little overview of what exactly is BridgingApps?
This is Cristen. I’ll start just because I distinguished already between BridgingApps.O-R-G, 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.
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. 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, its 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. When we started the website in late 2010, early 2011, the website really took off.
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 were using. We were just really excited about it.
We became part of Easterseals 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.
Awesome. Well, thank you for the background. Now what’s new with BridgingApps?
I will answer that, this is Amy. We are very excited about the new launch of our app search tool, which is separate from the BridgingApps.O-R-G. However, there is a link there to easily find it. 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. Our app search tool is there to 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. There are some apps, which we consider valued apps have not yet been reviewed, but we either work with the developers.
We’ve taken time to vet them or check them out and make sure that they would be a great fit for the site or for users of all abilities. Then we also have some that have been reviewed by our team, doctors, therapists, educators, and even people with certain disabilities. We have a user, 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. Yeah, so we’re just really excited about this new BridgingApps App Search Tool.
I’m pretty darn excited about it as well. Talking about the reviews, how do you decide what apps to review?
That’s a great question. We get apps 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.
Or we have just 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 Easterseals is reviewing for us and they feel really passionate about something. Or there’s maybe a big topic coming up like right now and we’re taping this in October. It’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month, which is a fancy way of saying using technology to help with communication.
It’s also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. 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. 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 what we try to go to a calendar where we’re promoting and reviewing and sharing different apps for different groups of people.
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?
I would say everyone. BridgingApps 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.
The what would seem like a really simple task becomes challenging with children and adults who are developmentally or physically delayed. Yeah, so it’s for everyone.
That’s great, because I know I have to do a presentation later this week and just looking for apps. 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.
I was just going to jump in and say that it really is the whole reason that we started BridgingApps 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. Oftentimes, 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 BridgingApps is our database is about 2,400 apps right now. 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. 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. We’ve also, 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. For some people, that’s still also pretty overwhelming, searching by price or even going by category. Again, you can either type in a 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.
Yeah. That’s awesome because not only can it be overwhelming with them all. Whenever you mention the lists, 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. 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?
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.
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.
I think that’s very important, especially for folks with a disability or a child with a disability, friend, family member or 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.
Right. That’s been really important to us and something that we’re really grateful just to be part of Easterseals that allows us to do that. We’re 100% grant funded. 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 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 BridgingApp Search Tool, you can create a free account and you can save your searches.
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.
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. Then read about all the information later to make decisions about what might be helpful for them in their situation.
Amy, you talked about this a little bit earlier, so 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?
Yeah. 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 AC 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.
Yeah, so it just really depends. 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 a 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. If they’re working with either children or somebody else, they may give some tips and tricks for how to use that app. Yeah, and then they just will basically also rate it. We do have a rating system between one and five, and they will give that a rating as the reviewer.
We also do have 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. We have two different rating systems there. Yeah, so that’s basically it.
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 how it’s an easy way to find out glitches and issues and problems like that, that individuals might have. I like that you’re getting information from both of those sources on the different apps.
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 no folks that are using to help them with access.
This is Cristen. I love talking about apps all the time and I have too many favorites to even.
I know. I just wanted to put you on the spot and see if I could get one out.
Yeah, that’s really a tricky question. It’s so funny, we have a weekly team meeting and there are 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.
It’s called If I Need Help. It is a tool where you can create an online profile with someone who may have memory issues and who may wander. It creates individualized QR codes that can be then worn on the person’s body. You can wear it on a shirt, you can have a sticker on your back, you can have a card in your purse. 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. Another wonderful app that I love, are the apps made by Special iApps, which started about 2010, 2011, and they are out of the UK.
They’re 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. Those are a couple of my favorites, so I’ll turn it over to Amy.
Yeah, we just did a feature. As a team, we take turns sharing our favorites or our staff picks, 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 caregivers trying to keep track of appointments and all the different things that go along with that. I also love Life360. It’s a tracking, 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. Yeah. Then at night there’s these soundscapes from nature, so I love that. Yeah, those are my faves right now.
Well, 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, “Well, 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.
Right. That’s something we just feel really strongly about and we’re constantly asked, “What are the best apps out there?” I have to disappoint people because I say, “Best apps for who?” Just in traditional assistive technology and best practice is person-centered, right? Is feature matching what’s important to you? Is price the most important to you?
If you’re looking at choosing something, is the 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. 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.
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. You would have that opportunity. Everything at BridgingApps as far as using the search tool is free, so 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.
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?
Most people can start by just going to www.BridgingApps.O-R-G. Right on the homepage, on the front page, it says app database and app search.
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.
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 BridgingApps.
About your new app search tool, the way that everything’s done and really just for all the great things you do. Really, even the help with the podcast in the Apps Worth Mentioning in the other segments that you do for us. Thank you both so much.
Thank you so much for having us, Josh.
Thank you so much. We really value our partnership and hope to bring many, many more apps worth mentioning to the podcast. Thanks so much for having us.
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 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. A special thanks to Nicole Preto 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, Easterseals Crossroads or supporting partners, or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.