We recently connected with Cristen Reat and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Cristen thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Was there a moment in your career that meaningfully altered your trajectory? If so, we’d love to hear the backstory.
Most of my interests from a young age were comprised of a passion for learning foreign languages and engaging in cross cultural communication. I followed that passion through college and into graduate school, majoring in French and obtaining a Master’s degree in Russian. After serving as a cryptologic linguist for Russian and Serbo-Croatian in the US Army, I found my calling working for a non-profit that focused on organizing foreign policy discussions in the Houston area.
It was during this time that my second son, Vincent, was born with Down syndrome, chronic health conditions and other disabilities. Becoming a parent certainly changes many aspects of one’s life, but becoming a parent of a child with multiple disabilities completely changed the trajectory of my professional life.
From the moment Vincent was born, I was overwhelmed with a completely new vocabulary. Instead of memorizing lists of nouns and verbs, assessing nuance of meaning, decoding nonverbal gestures that aided comprehension, I was confronted by lists of medications, government program acronyms, therapies, medical appointments, and educational decisions. Learning this new vocabulary felt both familiar to learning a foreign language, but distinctly different in that the stakes were much higher. A measurement of my success or failure would not simply be a poor grade or less than stellar radio transmission translation, but the health and development of a human being – my child.
I took several years off from my nonprofit job to focus on Vincent’s needs and provide the best care and support that I could. I organized notebooks of research. I read books. I joined support groups. I attended lectures. I employed the same methodical skills and focused concentration for learning languages to ensuring Vincent had access to the tools and expertise he needed to thrive.
When the iPad was introduced in 2010, I have a distinct memory of watching a woman on TV demonstrating how she used it to shop. I immediately thought – that is not a shopping tool, THAT is a LEARNING tool for Vincent! Soon after, I helped create a support group comprised of parents of young children with disabilities and therapists who were interested in how this new technology could help our children thrive and grow. This support group grew into the website BridgingApps.org, and we found a forever home at Easter Seals Greater Houston in 2011.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
Our mission at BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, is to find ways of leveraging the power of mobile device technology to enhance the lives of those with disabilities. We are first and foremost of a community of parents, people with disabilities, therapists, veterans and other professionals who learn best practices from each other. Much of our time is spent vetting, curating and reviewing apps for our online database of over 3,000 apps for both Apple and Android devices. Our aim is to help shortcut someone’s searching process of finding a solution that can help their unique situation, whether it is caring for a loved one with a disability, receiving a new diagnosis or coping with injury or illness. We also manage an Assistive Technology lab filled with tablets, smartphones, apps and other more traditional technologies that anyone in the community can explore free of charge. The CDC reports that one in four Americans is living with a long-term condition or disability, meaning the demand for services continues to grow. We are proud that our mission is to provide exceptional services to people with disabilities and their families so that they can live, work, learn and play in our communities. Annually Easter Seals Greater Houston brings help, hope and answers to 14,500 families living with disabilities.
Putting training and knowledge aside, what else do you think really matters in terms of succeeding in your field?
The work that I am in straddles several industries, including disability services, commercial technology, software development, assistive technology and education. Bringing it all together in new ways to serve others is an exciting, but sometimes daunting prospect as I do not have a technical background. Creating something from nothing requires perseverance and a relentless commitment to work hard. Good ideas abound, but in order to achieve success however you define it, there is no substitute for grit and determination to put in the hours to get results, which includes asking for monetary support in the form of donations to further the work of BridgingApps.org.
Are there any books, videos, essays or other resources that have significantly impacted your management and entrepreneurial thinking and philosophy?
The book “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined” by Sal Khan, who is an American educator and founder of Khan Academy, was inspiring to me and influenced my thinking on new ways to deliver content using technology. Khan Academy is a widely used free online platform and organization with over 6,000 video lessons on a wide spectrum of academic subjects that has had a massive global impact. His focus on leveraging the power of technology to enrich classroom interactions that can lead to mastery learning, serves as a model of what can be done to improve people’s lives. We have worked hard to ensure that BridgingApps’ resources remain free and accessible to all.
- Website: https://bridgingapps.org/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bridgingapps/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BridgingApps
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/35667830
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BridgingApps
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/bridgingapps
Easter Seals Greater Houston