ATU343 – CTA Foundation with Steve Ewell


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

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CTA Foundation – Steve Ewell – Executive Director, Consumer Technology Association Foundation |
Make government buildings easier to access for differently-abled : Supreme Court
A more accessible future: AirPods, hearing aids, and the audio technology to make it possible
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——-transcript follows ——

STEVE EWELL:  Hi, this is Steve Ewell, and I’m the Executive Director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 343 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on December 22, 2017. Merry Christmas.

Today my guest is Steve Ewell who is the executive director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, or the CTA foundation. Also we have a story about the Supreme Court demanding that government buildings become easier to access for the differently abled. Interesting. Didn’t we do that already? There’s a teaser. You’ll find out more when I read the story. Also, a past, present, and future perspective from 9to5mac on how Apple is making hearing technology more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

We hope you check out our website at Not only will you find the show and our YouTube channel, but you also find our other podcast like Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute. We also love to hear from you on our listener line. The number is 317-721-7124. Or you can also shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project.


As we ended the year here, I tend to wax philosophical. You might not be surprised when I got stuck when I started to read this article. I’ll just read a little bit here to you because it shocks me. It says, “The Supreme Court on Friday ordered that accessibility to building of the central and state governments should be made easier for differently abled people. A bunch of justices issued 11 directions requiring both the center and state governments to provide accessibility features like ramps, accessible toilets, elevator with braille symbols, and auditory signals for the physically challenged persons in such buildings including educational institutions, railway stations, airports, and public transport.”

While you may think I’m reading a historical document from the US, what I’m actually reading is an article that was published on 15 December in 2017, but in New Delhi India. So for my listeners here in the states who are almost celebrating 30 years of the Americans with disabilities act, the same sort of like a blast from the past. But actually, things in India are just unfolding to meet some of those guidelines. The article goes on to talk about that there are regional advisory boards being established to work on these issues and help provide guidance. I have to say I’m humbled and my eyes are open a little bit today as I read this and realize I’ve sort of taken for granted some of the accessibility we had in the United States. At the same time, I want to cheer on the folks in India who are champing these accessibility issues.

If you would like to read the details, I’ll pop a link in the show notes to this Darya 5 News blog post where the headline is, “Make government buildings easier to access for the differently abled.” Check our show notes.


I found a really good article over at 9to5 Mac by Michal Stever where he spent quite a lot of time talking about – the title is, “A more accessible future: AirPods, hearing aids, and the audio technology to make it possible.” The article is pretty interesting. He breaks down sort of the past, present, and future of what Apple has been doing in terms of hearing assistive technology. He talks about the fact that Apple has been interested in accessibility for decades, and that one of the first things they did in terms of hearing accessibility was to support hearing aids in connection with an iPhone. For example, they talk about their Made For iPhone, or MFI licensing program being expanded to be allowed to cover hearing devices. That used Bluetooth low energy technology with some other proprietary audio transmission. What that means is that, for a while now, a lot of hearing aids have been able to connect directly to an iPhone. Also he talked about the fact that that technology was expanded to work with cochlear implants. We are starting to see some situations where an Apple device or iPhone can talk directly to a cochlear implant for the purposes of telephone calls and music and those kinds of things.

We then spent a lot of time in the article talking about AirPods, which is a fairly new wireless set of headphones that Apple created. It’s powered by an Apple designed W1 chip that is able to do all kinds of interesting things in terms of knowing about relative positioning of the devices as well as some interesting things related to sound cancellation. These are really good at figuring out who was talking, whether the owner of the phone, the person talking on the phone, and what is background noise, and they are able to do some remarkable things in terms of making telephone calls more clear.

Obviously Steiber is interested in the fact that that kind of technology might be expanded or used in amplification systems. In fact, he talks about the fact that there are some other offerings like personal sound amplification systems like Bose Hearphones or a Hear one earbud from a company called Dopler Labs, which is now defunct. He also talks about the fact that there are apps that get your iPhone to behave like they are a hearing aid or edification device. He is encouraged about what the AirPods and other developing technology like the HomePod might do in terms of future accessibility for hearing.

He has a lot of ideas about using an iPhone for live translation and automatic transcription of conversations, about users who might have hearing difficulties using them like a walkie-talkie to talk back and forth. He also fully acknowledges that there are some challenges related to fully using Apple technology for assistive hearing. You talk about battery life, for example. He says that while hearing aid batteries last a couple of weeks, AirPods are only getting a few hours right now. That would need to be conquered. He also talks about the fact that the FDA doesn’t approve these kinds of devices as medical devices, which might impact funding availability.

I think it’s a fairly good, well written, and balanced article as well. He talks about some of the opposition expressed by people who have concerns about where Apple is going with this stuff. It is a good read. I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to his blog post at 9to5 Mac and I encourage you to check it out if you’re at all interested in assistive technology and hearing issues, because it is pretty interesting stuff.


Our show tends to reach a large audience, and people who are in all areas interested in accessibility and assistive technology tend to get something from the show. I was so excited when he reached out to the CTA Foundation, which is the Consumer Technology Association Foundation. They recently have won some awards and things that happened that I think are not only exciting but also relevant to what we talk about here on the show. I was so excited when Steve Ewell who is the executive director of the consumer technology Association foundation agreed to come on the show and talk with us a little bit about what’s happening over at the CTA and the CTA Foundation.

Enough of my rambling. Let’s get over to Steve. Welcome and thank you for being on the show today.

STEVE EWELL:  Thank you.  I’m really happy to join. I’m a fan of the show as well as an active listener. I’m really happy to be here and talk about some of the things we have going on.

WADE WINGLER:  We always appreciate your listening so thank you for taking time out and doing that. Thank you more for being on the show today. I want to know a little bit about you personally and how you became interested in the CTA and your role with the foundation.

STEVE EWELL:  Absolutely. To be honest, I came to this position about – it’s almost 6 years ago now – when the CTA was looking to start a charitable foundation. I was recruited to come in and help set up this foundation. But to be honest, I’m a tech geek. I just love playing with gadgets and different types of technologies. It’s been something that’s always been a passion of mine. But I had also spent most of my career in the nonprofit world working, quite frankly, on different issues. I was doing cyber security and critical infrastructure protection and things along those lines. I really had a love of technology, and the opportunity to come help set up a foundation and work with the innovators and the technology world as well as people both in the aging and disability communities. It was a great opportunity and I left at it.

WADE WINGLER:  It so that you and I might be cut from the same cloth. So far everything you said about your stuff and your interest our stuff I’m interested in as well. Here’s a surprise question. Star Wars or Star Trek?  Where are you?

STEVE EWELL:  Probably more of a Star Wars. Quite frankly I do like a little bit of both of them, but probably the real love is with Star Wars.

WADE WINGLER:  There you go. I’m bilingual. More Star Trek for me – I’m a next-generation kid. But I can roll.

STEVE EWELL:  I get it. I watched plenty of that stuff myself.

WADE WINGLER:  Talk to us about the CTA, the Consumer Technology Association, and then let’s talk about the foundation and what the differences are and we will get into accessibility stuff. What is the CTA?

STEVE EWELL:  The Consumer Technology Association is a trade association. They represent over 2,200 technology companies in the US. Many of them are the large global brands that all of your listeners will know, but actually 80 percent of their members are small businesses and startups, everything from app manufacturers to hardware manufacturers, the installers who may come and install the technology in someone’s home, really across the entire technology industry. It’s been amazing to see how that has grown over the last few years and decades.

The CTA Foundation is an affiliated organization. We are a charitable foundation that was set up by the CTA in 2012. We are essentially a way for the industry to give back. It’s interesting because when the CTA started the foundation and put together the initial Board of Trustees, which is made up of people from across the technology industry, essentially they said set a machine where technology can actually make a difference – that is very important given who we are – but also look at an area that may be doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. When we looked around and realize there is a lot of great work going on with kids in STEM education – and we highly encourage our companies to do work in that space – but rather than become one more organization working in that space, the board really wanted to see how we can work with both the aging population as well as people with disabilities.  When we looked at the numbers in philanthropy, aging only gets about two percent of philanthropic grants in the US, and disability is only about four percent. We saw a real opportunity to get engaged. At than what we have been looking to do over the last two years.

The one other thing I will mention about the Consumer Technology Association is one of the things it is best known for is it runs a large technology trade show called CES, which happens every January in Las Vegas. It’s an amazing time to get together with innovators from across the industry and look at what are the things that are coming and what are some of the technology that are on the market today.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s good. CES, I haven’t been there in a lot of years. I need to get out there again because I know there are lots of cool things. Talk to me more about the foundation and how accessibility fits into this.

STEVE EWELL:  Absolutely. Accessibility is at the heart. When we’re looking at how technology can benefit older adults and people with disabilities, we see accessible technology has to be at the core of the conversation. Certainly we look at the traditional assistive technology markets, and we do engage with many of those companies, but also the broader general technology consumer technology markets and where there are opportunities, whether it is iOS, android, and other operating systems and the accessibility that is built into them, but then how that ties into the broader accessibility ecosystem through Internet of things, smart home technology is, smart cities, really across the board there is an accessibility component. We do a lot of work as a foundation supporting organizations that are using technology. We give grants to a number of nonprofit organizations including one I purchased about from listening to your show, your friends down in Houston at BridgingApps with their program to categorize and help people identify the apps that can help people with a wide variety of disabilities. We also work with the industry to understand why it’s so important to address accessibility.

Out at CES, we have a number of activities we do throughout the week. Everything from having panels – this year we will be talking about smart home accessibility. We will be having a panel on self driving accessibility. We will have an accessibility marketplace. The way the show floor is set up, there are different marketplaces. Everything from augmented reality to health and fitness, there is an accessibility marketplace that we’ve had the last few years. But then really a lot of the messaging we are starting to share this year is it is not just the accessibility marketplace, but there is accessible technology from one side of the show to the next. We really want to be able to highlight the different types of technologies that are out there. We would love to get back out there one of these days and show you some of the technology that are there. We will also have representatives from many of the accessibility advocacy organization that we work with, some of their leadership will be out there and doing readings with different technology companies.

There is a section of the show called Eureka Park which is where all the startups are. This year we will have about 800 startups in that section of the show alone. One of the things our foundation does is we run a contest partnering with Extreme Tech Challenge where we allow startup companies to submit photos for how the technologies could benefit either older adults or people with disabilities. We select five startups to come to CES and show their technology and have a chance to give them some attention. We have five that we have selected and will have this year. This is the third time we’ve done it. We have a company called Project Ray which is using essentially a scanner for android phones for people who are blind or low vision. A company out of France called Lily Smart that’s a home sensor-based system. Sign All which is out of hungry, which is using automated sign language translation. Sofie Hub which is out of Australia which is the set of sensors and Internet of things devices. In a company out of Austin Texas called Unali Wear which has a smart watch designed for seniors. I think there will be a lot of exciting technologies there but certainly also across the entire show.

WADE WINGLER:  I know you have a lot of different things going on. What are some of the other project you’re working on these days?

STEVE EWELL:  There is a wide variety. I already mentioned some of the grant programs. We do have grants that are located from across the states with a wide variety of different programs. Some of the other work we’ve been doing, this year we actually partnered with IBM and a company called Local Motors to crowd source Accessible Ollie. It is and accessible self driving bus. It’s been interesting. We went around and met with many other different disability organizations, the aging organizations, as well as an online competition for people from around the world to submit ideas of what is their ideal experience if they were to ride on the self driving bus and what ideas would they like incorporated to help them regardless of age or ability. We got a lot of really interesting ideas. We are in the middle of working to see how we can help incorporate some of those. We will have a pilot of that at CES in January. That’s really exciting project.

We also have a fellowship program. We have our first fellow supported by Qualcomm working on sensors, essentially always connected, small, long-term wearable sensors for people with dementia to help detect not only that a fall has occurred but the severity of a fall and other caregivers to that, how someone might have fallen and when they fell to get a quick response. That’s something we are working to expand our fellowship and work with different universities across the country. There are a lot of exciting opportunities there as well.

WADE WINGLER:  For people who listen to our interviews, they might have figured out I really try to ask who, what, when, where, how, why questions to get to the story. That leads me to the who question. I know there are a lot of organizations involved in your work. Who are some of the players?

STEVE EWELL:  There are a couple of different answers that question. The “who” that is involved with the CTA Foundation is my Board of Trustees, which are made up of a wide variety of technology executives. They represent everything from large companies like Samsung and LG and Google and companies along those lines to actually a number of smaller companies as well. We have a number of people on our board who are from the disability community. They also happen to be technology executives. For instance, Mike May from Sendaro Group and Matt Ader from VFO and Cara Woo from Dopler Labs are all members of our Board of Trustees. That something that I think is really important to help us properly engage with the communities that we are focused on working with.

Then as far as organization we are working with, many of the national organizations – the American Foundation for the Blind, Hearing Loss Association of America, kind of across the different disability organizations we try to engage with many of the groups. Some we have given grants and support to. Others we have supported conferences or participated in other activities. We want to try to engage with as many people as we can.

We are a small foundation. We are a staff of the two, so we tried to operate on a fairly efficient manner. There’s always far more opportunity to do things than time in the day, unfortunately. We try to work with as many groups as we can.

WADE WINGLER:  Collaboration is key, especially when we are talking about this kind of work. As I was looking at the CTA website, I noticed some areas that piqued my interest, things like self driving cars, drones, energy efficiency. What is your take on how accessibility might be relevant to some of those topics?

STEVE EWELL:  That goes back to the whole idea that accessibility cuts across the many different categories of consumer technology these days. For instance, I mentioned the project we are doing on Accessible Ollie. When we look at self driving vehicles, or quite friendly transportation solutions in general, having technologies that enable people to get about, whether it is driving themselves, whether it is taking advantage of ridesharing and other disruptive services along those lines, or taking public transportation, we really see that those are great opportunities for technology to help enable people to keep the independence.

When we look at things like drones, there are a lot of opportunities for those to be used, whether it is looking at it from a delivery perspective, whether it is looking at it from an entertainment perspective, having those devices be accessible for people to use, I think that’s an important piece.

Then when we look at things like smart home technology, it’s amazing to see the number of devices that we can now control from the palm of our hands. Now it’s not even necessarily saying for the palm of our hands because we can talk to different devices in our homes and know whether the doors are locked, know how we can adjust the lighting and thermostat. That also plays into the aging and caregiving perspectives that we’re looking at of being able to, with the right privacy controls, give loved ones the opportunity to check in and see is the door locked in the middle of the night or is the thermostat set to a reasonable temperature. That provides a little bit of peace of mind if you have loved ones on the other side of the country or other side of the world that you are helping care for.

WADE WINGLER:  We have alluded to this in talking about partnerships, but how is the foundation funded?

STEVE EWELL:  Right now the vast majority of our funding comes from the Association. They’ve given us start up funding to get this program going. We use that, one, to cover our overhead so when we are going out and talking to our organizations about support, they are not necessarily contributing to keep me sitting here. CTA is able to help cover those costs. Instead, that means the donor contributions are able to go out to our programs, whether it is research or funding grant programs and other support that we are able to do. We have a number of companies and individuals that have funded and supported our programs. That is something, as you know coming from the nonprofit world, we are always actively looking for additional supporters. Thanks to CTA, we’ve been able to build our program and build our story before we’ve had to worry about getting the funding to do the programs. We’ve been able to get things going and are able to engage with others to help augment that support.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m going to ask you to put your visionary goggles on for a minute. What does success look like for the CTA foundation?  When you say man, we got there. We did it. What does it look like?

STEVE EWELL:  I want to see people regardless of their age or ability to be able to live independently in the way they want to live. Whether that is living at home by themselves, if it is living in a group facility, I think technology really has an opportunity to help provide those options for people. That’s the other thing I look at here, is technology doesn’t replace the people in the system. It’s that replacing the caregivers or social workers or the others in this space. Especially as we look at the changing demographics in the United States and around the world, the ratio of caregivers to older adults is shrinking to the point where technology can be a tool that can help create quality of life for everyone, whether it is someone who is older and needs care or someone taking care of them or someone with a disability, really across the spectrum. I’m excited to see the technology that are being developed that can help create that independence.

WADE WINGLER:  I agree. I share a vision and I like it. We are out of time for the interview today, but before we finish up, if people want to learn more about the CTA, the foundation, or they wanted to reach out to you, what should they do?  Is there contact information?

STEVE EWELL:  Absolutely. They can go on the web to They can reach out to me via email at Or follow us on Twitter at @CTAFoundation. All of those sources I am happy to hear from people, talk to different organizations, and see how we can help.

WADE WINGLER:  Steve Ewell is the executive director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation and has been our guest today. Thank you so much.

STEVE EWELL:  Thank you for having me.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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