Ahead of its time: Ultratec

Helping hearing loss
Ahead of its time: Ultratec

Ahead of its time: UltratecMore than seven percent of the U.S. population has hearing loss. Until the late 1970s, there wasn’t a way for people who were deaf or hard of hearing to communicate easily over the phone. It required large teletypewriter devices that cost thousands of dollars.

Rob Engelke, a University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering student, built a simple text modem device that allows people with hearing loss to type and read telephone conversations via text–similar to texting but long before mobile devices were available. Engelke and Madison-based Ultratec also developed the CapTel Captioned Telephone in 2002 that makes it easy for people with hearing loss to receive calls by allowing them to read phone conversations via captions without the other party needing any sort of special equipment to call. The phone is free or low-cost for people with hearing loss.

What is social innovation?

According to Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review, social innovation is a “novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions” and benefits primarily society as a whole rather than private individuals.

It includes these elements:

Increasing employment, productivity and economic growth

Justice, fairness, environmental preservation, improved health, arts and culture and better education

A social innovation:

Can be a product, production process or technology (much like innovation in general), but it can also be a principle, an idea, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or some combination of them.

Recognizes the fundamental role of cross-sector dynamics: exchanging ideas and values, shifting roles and relationships and blending public, philanthropic and private resources. Innovation blossoms where the sectors converge.

Can’t be understood, let alone solved, without involving the nonprofit, public and private sectors.

The M List
Madison Magazine‘s M List is a who’s who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its third year, the M List recognizes those making strides in the area of social innovation. Last year’s list of innovators were in the food industry. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored “Foodtastic” entrepreneurs and innovators.

Click here to return to the 2015 M List.