Using tech for good

Houston nonprofit optimizes technology for special needs treatment and diagnoses

BridgingApps, a program backed by Easter Seals of Greater Houston, uses technology like iPads to help provide services for children and adults with disabilities — as well as for veterans — and their families. Courtesy of BridgingApps

When the first iPad was released in April of 2010, tech accessibility changed in more ways than mobile checkouts or on-the-go streaming.

The interface of the device is built around the multi-touch screen, which became a game changing component in special needs therapy and sparked the founding of BridgingApps, a program part of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

The program provides access to educational and therapeutic tools to parents, teachers, and therapists to use these mobile devices and apps to target and improve cognitive and physical development in children and adults with disabilities.

"I am the parent of a child with multiple disabilities; my son was born with Down syndrome," says Cristen Reat, co-founder and program director at BridgingApps.

Reat tells InnovationMap that she helped start a support group in a therapy clinic where many parents were interested about why mobile devices and apps were so engaging to their children.

"We were just amazed about how our children with different types of disabilities were engaged with the devices, were able to communicate with the devices, and were making big strides in their therapy," says Reat.

BridgingApps was founded by Reat and Sami Rahman in 2010, both seeking to help their children grow. The program became a part of Easter Seals of Greater Houston in 2011. The website currently boasts over 3,000 apps which users can sort through by category, age, price, skill, grade level, mobile device, and more. The apps are also able to benefit and treat veterans and their families.

"I was amazed at how quickly my son was able to do things independently with these touch screens that he was not able to do with traditional computers," Reat tells InnovationMap.

The Easter Seals Greater Houston organization was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the Comcast Foundation as part of the Comcast NBCUniversal Assistive Technology Grant Fund, expand the available equipment used in the community technology labs with new equipment such as the TobiiDynavox EyeMobile Mini Classic Eye Gaze system that includes new software called Look To Learn and SnapCore First, and the AbleNet Latitude Mounting Arm that holds an iPad, Kindle, or other tablet and mounts to beds, wheelchairs, and tabletops.

The nonprofit offers three assistive technology services labs across the Houston area, in Bellaire, the Woodlands, and Stafford. According to the website, each lab has open lab days that the public can access without an appointment to explore a variety of assistive technology, including adapted toys and switches, specialized software and computer equipment, communication devices, and mobile devices and apps. Workshops and trainings are also available.

"The whole idea of BridgingApps is a shortcut, so that you don't have to Google search every day," says Reat. "It's basically the Yelp of special needs apps where you can type in a diagnosis, a skill, something you're looking for, and you'll come up with a video, instructions, and summary that helps people figure out what can help them today."

The organization was also awarded a $75,000 grant by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, which, according to a news release, will help the nonprofit serve 50 individuals that are veterans and or current military as well as their family members through services such as digital trainings through app reviews and videos, face-to-face counseling and counseling via tele-health, especially for those without transportation or living in rural areas.

BridgingApps currently has a team of two full-time and seven part-time employees. The nonprofit hosts an annual fundraiser each Spring called Walk With Me. The next walk is scheduled for April 25 at the Houston Zoo.
Texas was ranked among the top states for black entrepreneurs. Getty Images

In honor of Black History Month, a study was conducted to see which states have the best environment for black entrepreneurs — and Texas rose to the top.

The Lone Star State was ranked No. 2 in the inaugural FitSmallBusiness study, only behind Georgia. Florida, California, and North Carolina rounded out the top five, in that order. The ranking factored in metrics such as start-up growth, cost-of-living, black business success, and social equality.

"Entrepreneurship is the backbone of the American economy and minority-owned businesses are no exception to that fact," says FitSmallBusiness's special projects editor, Michael De Medeiros, in the news release. "With this being the inaugural study, our goal was to focus on the data that paints an overall picture of what the African American entrepreneur faces in the business world."

Breaking down the metrics for the state, Texas ranked No. 4 for three metrics —black business success, startup climate and financial health. However, when it came to social and financial equality — which factored in education, health, mortality rate, etc. — the state ranked No. 17.

The study used reputable reports from the United States Census Bureau, WalletHub, U.S. News & World Report, and more. From these reports, the study found that black-owned firms have grown 34 percent from 2007 to 2012, to now over 2.6 million companies. The top 100 black-owned companies generated $30 billion in 2018, but only 1 percent of venture-backed startup founders were black.

In addition to these metrics, the study also polled over 1,300 U.S. citizens regarding their own experience with black entrepreneurship. When asked about opportunities for black entrepreneurs compared to recent history, over 21 percent of respondents said it was about the same; however, more than half responded that there were somewhat or much more opportunities than before.

"While we weren't surprised by certain findings, some of the state rankings told an interesting story of the unique journeys that African American entrepreneurs have to traverse," De Medeiros continues in the release. "Ultimately, we hope that our continuing work to identify the best states for minority entrepreneurship will lead to new businesses outside of just the most prosperous areas of the U.S."

Austin-based Capital Factory — a startup development and investment organization — in partnership with DivInc, has launched its second annual startup pitch competition for black founders. The application is live now, and the deadline is March 20. Five startups will be invited to pitch on April 14th at Capital Factory's Black in Tech Summit, and one will walk away with a $100,000 investment.