The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is a leader in “changing people’s lives for the better” via technology, and in advocating for diversity, economic growth, and STEM education. Its affiliate, the CTA Foundation, advances the mission by funding digital-inclusion projects geared toward seniors and people with disabilities.
This year, BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, celebrates the tenth anniversary of our first Foundation grant. That initial grant supported our University Place Assisted Living project, which ran through 2016 and comprised a pilot technology-introduction program for Memorial Hermann’s University Place senior-living community.
Dr. Cristy Gamez-Galka coordinated the project, providing weekly technology training (both one-on-one and group-program) to UP residents from September 2014 through May 2015. Other foci and achievements included:
- Providing a speech language pathologist for University Place’s rehabilitation program
- Training caregivers
- Creating relevant content for our BridgingApps.org website, including a Seniors section with curated app lists, how-to videos, and printable how-to resources
- Creating senior-friendly filters and search capabilities within the App Search Tool (our database of app descriptions and reviews, comprising nearly 3,000 apps)
Our relationship with CTAF has continued since the University Place project, with new grant-funded programs every year. The Foundation has been an invaluable supporter in our mission of providing resources, education, and information to help people of all ages and abilities enhance their lives with apps and mobile devices.
- 2017: Provided in-person and online training for people with disabilities; also provided loaner devices to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, with training in how to use technology to access food bank locations and FEMA forms.
- 2018: Taught digital skills, device troubleshooting, and personal-management apps to Veterans and caregivers at Fisher House.
- 2019: Expanded BridgingApps database with new financial-technology (FinTech) app reviews aimed at older adults.
- 2020: Continued to expand our outreach to marginalized populations, throughout the worst of the pandemic closures. Developed the on-demand Digital House Calls course for teaching how to navigate telemedicine appointments.
- 2021: Worked with the Digital Psychiatry Team at Harvard Medical School (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) to identify, organize, and publish twenty new mental-health app reviews (with accompanying videos) for Veterans and people with disabilities. Also developed “Digital Tools for Personal Wellness and Self Care” video series.
This year, our main CTAF-funded project is adding a “Digital Essentials: Did You Know” section to our website, aimed at helping tech beginners (especially seniors and Veterans) get comfortable with mobile devices by highlighting how basic functions and apps can enhance everyday quality of life.
The BridgingApps/CTAF relationship is mutually appreciated, as leaders on both sides acknowledge.
Steve Ewell, CTAF Executive Director: I’m thrilled to support impactful programs like Easter Seals of Greater Houston’s BridgingApps. Over the years, the program has helped people of all ages and abilities find and master life-changing apps and technologies, from financial and health technology to general communications. I can’t wait to see what BridgingApps does next!
Cristen Reat, BridgingApps Co-Founder and Program Director: Without CTA’s support, the BridgingApps program would be difficult to sustain. Their funding has increased our visibility and made it possible to attract high-level donors, such as the George Foundation, United Way Greater Houston, Amerigroup, Blue Cross Blue Shield, McKenzie Scott, Comcast, and Consumer Action. Most recently, we have CTA to thank for helping us acquire a new grant from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
And hundreds of individuals have the CTA/BridgingApps partnership to thank for improvements that technology has made in personal quality of life. Here are just two examples.
- Clark, a Houston firefighter, sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during Hurricane Harvey. Afterward, he had ongoing memory problems and significant issues with his vision, making daily-living activities painfully challenging. Clark came looking for help relearning his smartphone, and for guidance on other technology solutions to help him regain independence. BridgingApps helped him become familiar with accessibility features already built into his phone, including making the home screen and font bigger. In our Assistive Technology lab, he also learned to choose and use a stylus for typing out sentences on his phone. Now, Clark can navigate his phone and life much more independently.
- Ramsey is in her sixties and has had Cerebral Palsy all her life. Speech challenges have been her biggest frustration as both people and voice-operated devices had difficulty comprehending her, and she has been largely dependent on her family to communicate on her behalf. Now, through the Voiceitt pilot program (introduced to BridgingApps at CES 2020 with the CTA Foundation’s support), Ramsey finally has an app that can understand and speak for her. Voiceitt uses artificial intelligence created specifically to learn nonstandard speech and translate it into standard speech; and Ramsey is so excited about this technology’s potential for increasing her independence, including the use of voice commands to control smart devices in her home.
We look forward to developing even more innovative CTAF-funded projects, into 2023 and far beyond!
For additional information on BridgingApps and other CTAF grantees, visit the CTA’s Foundation Grants page. BridgingApps is listed under “Easter Seals Greater Houston.”