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CEA Foundation Aims To Enhance Accessibility

Three years ago Gary Shapiro, John Shalam, and I took to a stage in New York to announce the launch of the CEA Foundation and our first grant recipient – Selfhelp Community Services. Since then we have built an amazing portfolio of grant recipients that are changing the lives of thousands of older adults and people with disabilities through the use of consumer electronics. As we build the foundation, I often get questions regarding why the board of trustees chose to focus on aging and disability issues.

When the board selected these areas, they found topics that met basic requirements: one, an important charitable cause; two, an area where our industry could make a difference; and three, an area that receives less attention then it deserves.

The two populations that we focus on represent significant portions of our communities. According to the U.S. Census, there are over 56 million Americans who report a disability (18.7 percent of the population). In the US, the percentage of the population age 65 or older will increase from 13.1 percent in 2010 to 21.4 percent in 2050. This is turning the traditional age pyramid (where there is a large base of younger individuals as a percentage of the population that shrinks towards the older demographic) into an age column.

These are key audiences where technology can make a difference. As the population ages, there will be far fewer caregivers to take care of older adults and people with disabilities. Technology can augment the abilities of caregivers to take better care of more people, while also enabling us all to live healthier and more independent lives. Major CE industry trends such as Internet of Things, health and fitness technologies, wearables, robotics and autonomous driving will all innovate to improve quality of life.

The third criterion was also a crucial piece of the decision. The Foundation Center tracks grants from 1000 of the largest foundations in the US in terms of giving. This dataset tracked nearly 150,000 grants given within the U.S., accounting for over $20.4 million. Of those grants, aging-related grants accounted for only 1.4 percent and disability accounted for 3.6 percent. There is a real opportunity for a new foundation to disrupt these spaces.

In the three years since we launched the CEA Foundation, we have made a direct impact in the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities across the country. The small pilot project of a virtual senior center that we announced support for with Selfhelp is now helping hundreds of older adults in New York, San Diego, Chicago and Baltimore. Our support has enabled BridgingApps to expand their catalog of apps to help users identify the apps that will meet their accessibility needs regardless of their age or disability. Through programs at the Lighthouse Guild and Older Adults Technology Services we have enabled education programs that help people try and learn consumer technologies that can change lives. These are just a handful of the programs we have support. More programs can be found at

CEA Foundation – Testimonials

Jamy, a virtual senior center participant from Long Island said of the program “You’ve empowered me. I was shut off, forgotten. Now I have a voice again. I can’t say thank you enough.”

During an interview with David Dring of Selfhelp and Tom Kamber of OATS at 2015 International CES, Kamber shared: “The Consumer Electronics [Association] Foundation is one of the only funders in the country that is enabling people like David and me to do our work. And I think both of us would like to give a shout out to the foundation. You are enabling us to help tens of thousands of seniors every year and plug them into these benefits of technology. The Consumer Electronics [Association] Foundation is really the national leader on that.”

Our work has also not escaped the notice of government. At International CES, during his discussion with Gary Shapiro, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler also underscored the importance for accessibility, and the role that the CEA Foundation plays when he said to Gary “You guys have been doing a great job on that [accessibility] too. What you’ve done with your foundation, and stepping up, and saying we are going to fund projects that help people with disabilities. It’s hats off to you. Thank you.”

As a small foundation we have often been approached by more worthy causes then we could support, but through the leadership of our Board of Trustees we have been able to select a few programs where we could make a real impact. This is an opportunity for everyone within the technology industry to take pride in the way our innovations can change lives. We will continue to grow and identify new ways we can help. If you have ideas, or if you would be interested in helping us expand our reach, please visit to support us.

Stephen Ewell is executive director of the CEA Foundation.