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.
Sugar Land and Pearland are experiencing a bit of a boom when it comes to population. Photo courtesy of Sugar Land Town Square

Two of the fastest-growing spots in the nation are right in Houston's backyard. Personal finance website WalletHub has crowned Sugar Land and Pearland among the 30 fastest-growing cities in the U.S.

WalletHub published its list of America's fastest-growing cities October 14. To come up with the list, the site compared 515 cities of varying sizes on 17 key measures of both growth and weakness over a seven-year period. Cities were judged in areas such as population growth, economic gains, and unemployment declines.

Sugar Land, No. 21 among all 515 cities, also claimed the No. 13 spot for midsize cities (100,000 to 300,000 residents) with the highest growth. Pearland ranked No. 27 overall and came in No. 17 among midsize cities.

Sugar Land also earned the No. 1 ranking in WalletHub's "sociodemographics" category, and, in the category for highest population growth, Sugar Land tied for No. 1 overall with Frisco and McKinney, plus three cities outside Texas.

The title of fastest-growing city in Texas goes to Frisco. The DFW suburb claimed the No. 5 spot overall and ranked No. 3 among midsize cities. Frisco also tied for No. 1 in the category of highest job growth (6.88 percent); McKinney shared that ranking.

Two other Texas cities made WalletHub's top 30: Round Rock, No. 10, and Austin, No. 15.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.