Cristen Carson Reat of BridgingApps tells us how the company is bridging the gap between technology and people with disabilities.
Tell us about yourself, your career, and how you founded BridgingApps.
Cristen Carson Reat: I am a trained linguist and a military veteran. After my time in the service, I worked at the World Affairs Council of Houston, a nonprofit that organizes foreign-policy and culture discussions in the Houston area.
When my second son, Vincent, was born with multiple disabilities in 2003, my career shifted to focus on his needs. I helped create a support group for parents of kids with disabilities and included therapists who were interested in the potential of mobile tech to help kids learn and grow. This group evolved into the BridgingApps website and team, now part of Easter Seals Greater Houston.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Cristen Carson Reat: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I established a “2-2-2” early-morning routine—a 2-mile walk, 2 glasses of water, and 2 minutes of stretching—to ground myself for meeting each day’s challenges and juggling my responsibilities.
How does BridgingApps market its products/services online? What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Cristen Carson Reat: Our marketing program is an ever-evolving entity. As online-database providers, we make a point of keeping up with social media and the latest web-based tools. We also rely on newsletters, word of mouth, and projects operated in conjunction with other Easter Seals Greater Houston teams.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?
Cristen Carson Reat: Our team is small but mighty, combining our diverse skill sets to further the BridgingApps/Easter Seals mission of service, inclusion, and accessibility. The team-spirit atmosphere is a major factor in recruitment (and internal referrals) as well as retention.
How are you funding your growth?
Cristen Carson Reat: BridgingApps is 100% grant-funded, helped along by collaboration with other nonprofits and forward-looking companies. Also important to our fundraising is the everyday work of team members and others at Easter Seals, who showcase the value of our services for children and adults with disabilities (and their families).
Continually expanding our reach and improving our services has paid off: BridgingApps celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2021.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Cristen Carson Reat: Like most organizations serving people with disabilities, we do not view those who provide similar services as competitors but complementary providers in the larger mission to improve lives. Among the many organizations that publish helpful app reviews are Common Sense Media, Learning Works for Kids, and the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI).
Where BridgingApps stands out is in our focus on disability-app reviews entirely. We serve a community of people with disabilities, plus their parents, caregivers, therapists, teachers, and other professionals who have a particular interest in making the digital-information world accessible to all. Wherever there is a barrier to accessibility—whether the issue involves vision, hearing, mental processing, or something else—there is a glitch in the digital world’s purpose of making all kinds of information freely available to all types of people.
Where other app developers and organizations are concerned, I am a firm believer in collaborating with them to make information current, relevant and usable. I feel a particular affinity with organizations, such as the Harvard Medical School Division of Digital Psychiatry and the American Foundation for the Blind, which believe in taking deep dives into specific areas.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Cristen Carson Reat: Six-year-old AJ has an autism diagnosis and has received physical, occupational, and speech therapy through Easter Seals since early childhood. A BridgingApps iPad and TouchChat communication app (plus telehealth therapy) helped him continue making progress throughout the 2020 COVID shutdowns and subsequent pandemic challenges. He is still using the iPad at home and in school to make new friends and communicate with everyone in his life. While this tablet is a loaner that technically belongs to Easter Seals Greater Houston, things are going so well that we are gathering funds to provide AJ with a device that is truly his—which will also free the loaner iPad to move on help change another child’s life.
What would you like to share as final thoughts?
Cristen Carson Reat: For all the hardship it caused, the global COVID pandemic significantly boosted the development—and even more the acceptance and use—of mobile and communications tech. It also highlighted the plight of the marginalized as literally, everyone experienced special health concerns and limited access to basic essentials, critical services, and human connections. Virtual technology-enabled hundreds of thousands of people to remain employed, continue their education, stay in face-to-face touch with loved ones, and receive essential health care.
Although much progress has been made, much remains to be done toward the ideal of ongoing universal accessibility. Mobile and communications tech remain in greater demand than ever, and many people still lack easy access to the internet and wireless services. (Witness the number of kids who, during the 2020–2021 period of exclusively virtual schooling, were forced to depend on restaurant and library parking lots just to get close enough to a usable connection.) Mobile connections can even mean the difference between getting or not getting lifesaving medical care for people with special needs, including mental health counseling.
There is no going back to the pre-pandemic “normal”—and that’s a good thing if the new normal continues to open new horizons in technology and accessibility. A top-priority goal is raising disability access above “afterthought” status by encouraging tech developers in all industries to involve people with disabilities at every stage, especially in design. Input from those most affected is vital to ensuring that new apps are simple for everyone to use and understand.