Tyler Suiters                      

Hey, everybody. With the Consumer Technology Association, I'm Tyler Suiters. We are the owners and producers of CES, the most influential tech event on the planet. We are here to help you get CES-ready. The show is January 7th through the 10th, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Tyler Suiters                      

Today we're addressing accessibility technology. We'll start with a pretty basic question for you. How many times have you engaged with technology in, say, the last 12 hours? Your phone, maybe your PC. In any event, imagine trying to do that if you couldn't do something as simple as seeing the screen you're using. Well, that's where accessibility technology comes into play.

Tyler Suiters                      

Today, two really interesting perspectives. First of all, from the AARP. Now, you may think of that as more age-associated, and you're right. But the association takes a very proactive approach in getting us ready to engage with technology when we don't have all the abilities we do, say, right now. Also, we're getting a first-person perspective on the value of accessibility tech, someone who is visually impaired and talks about what their day is like not being able to see the technology that you engage with, and yet engaging with technology at every turn. All of that is coming up on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

Tyler Suiters                      

With us in studio today is a vice president of corporate business development for Vispero, Matt Ater. Matt, pleasure to have you with us today.

Matt Ater                           

Thank you. I'm looking forward to it.

Tyler Suiters                      

We've got you off the road. I know how busy you are. Tell us, Vispero recently been in the news. Exciting accessibility news, and something that I think even those who are not visually impaired can understand the value of this new technology you're introducing.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah, so we are... One of our product lines is called JAWS for Windows, and it's a screen reader made for people who are blind that want to use a computer. You can put the software on any Windows device and access, whether it's email, the internet, doing documents, writing resumes, reading papers, whatever it may be. The things that... Today, that's just sitting at home using a computer or taking a tablet on the road.

Matt Ater                           

You could walk into anywhere today and find a kiosk, something that has a touchscreen environment, and try to participate at that venue, whether it's a grocery store, a shopping mall, a fast food chain, airline. How does a blind person interact with one of those kiosks? Today we announced a new product called JAWS Kiosk, and it allows companies to put the software on the kiosk. You can add any other kind of input device. Instead of a touchscreen, you may want to use a keyboard or a headphone jack to plug the headphones in so the blind person can have privacy. ATMs have had this for a long time. The question is, who else is going to do it to provide access to somebody who's blind and give them equal access?

Tyler Suiters                      

What a great diving off point for this accessibility sector in general. We say it regularly that tech is changing our lives for the better in a myriad of ways, whether that's our health, our security, or something as seemingly simple as how we communicate and stay in touch with one another. But there often is a barrier, right, if you're visually impaired, if you're hearing impaired. There's something there that doesn't allow you to take full access of this. And that's where companies like Vispero fill the gap, right?

Matt Ater                           

Yeah, I mean, we've created technology that allow people with visual impairments to access anything on a computer, on mobile devices, whether it's your smartphone or tablet. Then we've created devices for people who may have challenges in reading any kind of print material. You get out your newspaper every morning and still read it, and you get your mail. I know it's weird that we still say people get mail. But how do people read that mail? How do you read the card you get in the mail from somebody for your birthday or Christmas? We make devices that allow people with low vision to be able to read that materials, which is pretty fascinating.

Matt Ater                           

Then the other thing we do is work with other companies and collaborate with them to help solve accessibility problems. If you think in the tech world, how do we make DVR accessible so that a blind person can actually read the cable guide? Or how do we make a television accessible so that a blind person can actually use the controls or turn on different features of that television? In the world of all the technology that you may see at CES, like a dishwasher, a washer or dryer, even self-driving cars, all of this kind of technology could benefit people with disabilities if they're built with an accessible plan, if somebody's built the technology to work with either other devices that would allow the accessibility or they've partnered with companies to kind of make the accessible experience.

Tyler Suiters                      

You have your narrative down, which is exactly what I'd expect from someone in corporate business development, right?

Matt Ater                           

Exactly.

Tyler Suiters                      

It sounds great, and it's compelling. But you have a first-person perspective on this. You are a user of this technology. You understand exactly what this means to the visually impaired community.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah, you look at things like kiosks or any other experience that we may go through today just to get to work, right? This morning before coming over here, I pulled out my smartphone and put in the address using an app for calling a ride service, typing in the address. My smartphone's talking. Submit the address. It then tells me that the driver's six minutes away, tells me he's five minutes away, tells me to check the driver's car to make sure it's the right one, ask the driver... All the typical things you would do if that app's accessible. My smartphone is reading that stuff to me constantly.

Matt Ater                           

Then I get to a metro station. Can I buy a ticket? I get to work. Can I read the memos that people put on my desk, or the memos that I got via email? All the kinds of things that we do every day that most people take for granted. But if you look at all the things you do on the computer today... You could probably count, and it's going to go over two hands, the total number of things that you interact with on the internet every month, whether it's paying your bills or ordering your prescription or whatever it may be, and are those accessible so that a person who's blind or has another disability can interact with it?

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah, everything you just listed, Matt, I feel like I've done in the last 24 hours on my phone or on my PC or my laptop and haven't thought twice about. You add in stalking my daughter's social media accounts and you got the full suite of my last day and a half, really. But kidding aside, you're absolutely right that you do take it for granted.

Tyler Suiters                      

With that in mind, what is the one accessibility point that you find to be either most challenging or a challenge that you've conquered that is most valuable to you?

Matt Ater                           

Well, for me, it's... I've obviously grown up with this technology and have a lot of background in it, so for me to conquer something may be different than somebody else. I worry more about those who can't even apply for a job today because websites may not be accessible, or the platforms that people are building them on aren't accessible. I worry about people just participating in society. Whether or not you can go to a store today, and you walk up and you want to check out at the counter and all they have is self-checkout, and a blind person can't interact with it. Forget the fact that we've taken away jobs from people to put that technology out there, but technology's the wave of the future. But is that technology compliant in a way that allows someone to do it?

Matt Ater                           

I worry about others more than I worry about myself, because I've grown up around it and I have a lot of capabilities, and have some money to buy technology to maybe fix some things. Other people may not be able to do that. Just the other day, I wanted to use my washer and dryer, and I had to call up an agent on the phone using a smartphone. They used the camera on my phone to read what the setting was on it, because my kids changed the setting from regular wash to super soak, and it was taking two hours to just do a load of laundry. All I wanted to do was do a shirt, right? But there was no simple reset button, right? I guess I could've unplugged it, but God knows what that would've happened in my house, right?

Tyler Suiters                      

Easy now. Easy.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah. So I worry about that kind of stuff.

Matt Ater                           

When it comes to things that I think is... If we look at tech that people've done that have changed the lives of people, sometimes we do it for people with disabilities, and sometimes we do it for everybody else and it benefits people with disabilities. So if we look at closed captioning, today, everybody uses closed captioning whether they think about it or not. You walk into a restaurant or a bar and you look up at the TV and you can watch it today, just because it's constantly showing the captioning on the screen. That was made for somebody else.

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah, or any video you're watching on social to streaming, right, if you're in a public place?

Matt Ater                           

Yeah.

Tyler Suiters                      

I'll just read it instead of listen to it.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah. Or you can't understand it because somebody's mumbling on the show and you turn it on, right? So I think that that's really been great. If you look at other tech that's come out in the last couple years that are really benefiting people with disabilities, which I love, is all of this smart home technology voice interactions, whether it's Alexa or Google or Siri or whoever else. Microsoft is coming out with these different features. That is really just wonderful technology if everybody can start playing with it and tapping into it.

Tyler Suiters                      

So what is your level of excitement for, and I think this technology very much fits into that milieu, self-driving vehicles?

Matt Ater                           

I love the concept. I've gotten to ride in a couple. There's some challenges around the tech today in that... Think of the kind of... I don't know if I'm... The last mile concept?

Tyler Suiters                      

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Matt Ater                           

Where the car drops you off closest to what the car can find. But how does it communicate to somebody who's blind and they get out of the car, to let them know, "Hey, I've dropped you off on this corner, not that corner." So that's the hurdles that they'll need to solve.

Matt Ater                           

But the concept of me being able to call up a car and it pick me up... I mean, rideshare has already done a lot of this for us. I mean, the fact that I can easily call up something that's half the cost of a taxi to get me somewhere is great. And I can see how far it is. I'm not having to call the dispatch and ask, "How much longer is it going to take?" Right? And I don't have to exchange money and wonder if the money that they're handing me back is the right amount.

Tyler Suiters                      

And if you're dropped off in a different corner, someone will say, "Mr. Ater, you're here, not what your destination says," right? "You have another block to go."

Matt Ater                           

Right. Right.

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah. That human exchange.

Matt Ater                           

So I'm stuck using... And not in a bad way. Again, I have the fortunes to be able to use a smartphone and pull up an app and call somebody to help me figure out where I am, or use a GPS app to figure out I'm still a block away from my destination. I mean, that's the minor thing that I think still needs to get resolved, because these cars can't yet communicate to you about where it physically puts you.

Matt Ater                           

But from the concept perspective, just that... A self-driving car is... I don't know, it's stuff we watched as kids in cartoons but now we're going to see someday, which is pretty cool.

Tyler Suiters                      

Scaling back a bit to some of the more quotidian options, we know you well at the Consumer Technology Association because of your involvement in the CTA Foundation, the mission of connecting those with various disabilities and seniors with tech in their everyday lives. What does the foundation mean to you, and what does the mission say to you about where tech is and what it can do?

Matt Ater                           

Well, I think the finding a way to connect tech with these communities and help those tech companies learn about these communities has done a lot to open the eyes of the tech community, and allow us to be able to help people with disabilities or seniors be able to get access to technology. Some of the stuff we've done when it comes to helping people learn about tech or use tech in some of these places is just amazing. Some of the projects in helping these companies get off the ground to develop technology is the way we need to move.

Matt Ater                           

We look at all the challenges that people with disabilities have. Some of those are more obvious if you've lived with somebody with a disability or learned about somebody with a disability. When you think about seniors, we all have touched somebody in our lives who's a senior, who has challenges, whether it's remembering where your medicine is, or remembering to take your medication, or helping you to be able to participate. Some of the technology when it comes to video streaming, where you can talk to your family members that are seniors and work with them today, and you see people doing this in different locations for helping people learn about technology... I mean, it's watching them take another step towards "Hey, I can do this." It can still apply with people with disabilities as well as we learn to kind of make the tech more accessible.

Matt Ater                           

So I think what the foundation has done to open the eyes of both the tech community and then find ways to help these different startups and nonprofits be able to find a good foothold on different projects to help people with disabilities and seniors has been great.

Tyler Suiters                      

Let's talk about a bit of a more tangible aspect of that community and granting access. CES has an entire accessibility market place. Vispero is taking part in that and engaging. What's the value you see? You're a CES veteran. I mean, you've been there how many times now?

Matt Ater                           

It's about four or five years now. And I love it.

Tyler Suiters                      

Okay, so what are you looking for? Yeah, what are you looking for in 2020 then along those lines?

Matt Ater                           

Well, we'll have some pretty cool new tech, which I love to show off. We'll have some kiosks set up with different hardware manufacturers. We're not a manufacturer of kiosks. We're going to put our solutions on them. We've partnered with different input devices as well, like keypads from different companies. So we'll have those set up in the Vispero booth. Then along with that, we'll have some of our new low-vision devices so that people can come up and see that technology, Braille devices so they can feel what Braille looks like as you're typing on a computer and the Braille's refreshing and updating.

Matt Ater                           

We'll have all of that in the booth, and it really does open the eyes of people. I think for us, we're not... We're a very small player in the overall CES world. But what it does is allows people to get a new perspective. I loved watching people come by and say to us, "Hey, my parents use that," or "My dad uses your screen reader JAWS," or one of the CEOs came by and talked to us and says, "We have blind employees, and we use your software. Could you help us?" So it's more of an awareness thing for us, and also looking at tech that may be a good fit for us to either buy or participate and partner with.

Tyler Suiters                      

Coming up on roughly five years at CES, and you missed some of CES last year. I mean, I know tech's a passion for you⁠—

Matt Ater                           

I don't know why we're bringing this up.

Tyler Suiters                      

⁠—but passion 1-A for Matt Ater is your alma mater, right, and a specific sports program there?

Matt Ater                           

Sure. Roll Tide.

Tyler Suiters                      

Last year, CES 2019 happened to coincide with a national championship game.

Matt Ater                           

Well, and fortunately or unfortunately, it was located very close to Las Vegas. I'm glad that it'll not be that close in the future, because I'd rather be at CES. But when you're an hour-and-a-half flight from Santa Clara, it became an option to make a quick trip and come back.

Tyler Suiters                      

Uh-huh (affirmative). Let's leave it without talking about the final score. I understand.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah. Yeah.

Tyler Suiters                      

But I'm sure your confident the Tide'll be back in the next round here.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah, and we'll have lots of TVs at CES we can watch the game on. I'm not worried about that.

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah, I've heard live simulcast is not a problem for the national championship football game.

Matt Ater                           

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Tyler Suiters                      

Matt Ater is a vice president of corporate business development with Vispero. Matt, fascinating conversation, and let's keep this going at CES 2020.

Matt Ater                           

Looking forward to it. Thank you.

Tyler Suiters                      

Joining us now from AARP is Rick Robinson. He is a vice president of product innovation. Rick, great to have you with us from just across town here in DC.

Richard Robinson            

Thanks so much for having me. Great to be here.

Tyler Suiters                      

Normally we talk about what you're up to right now, but I want to put that on hold, because you have a pretty deep tech background before joining AARP, including one of the giants at the time at AOL. So how'd you find yourself getting into tech, and the value that you bring from that history and experience?

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, there are some listening who may argue with that, my tech prowess. But I actually started in journalism, but found myself quickly at America Online in '96. Frankly, for lack of technical resources, I sort of taught myself the propriety programming language that AOL had in order to take the content that I wanted to build and the product containers I wanted to put them in, and sort of just taught myself in some ways to be a bit of a developer, a bit of a product manager in order to get the consumer experiences I wanted out to the customers. So it was a bit of bootstrapping. It was also a bit of, I didn't know what I didn't know, so I just did it. AOL was a wonderful place to be able to experiment like that. At the time there, I was in local and then I was in social and mobile, those three spaces, throughout my tenure there.

Tyler Suiters                      

The three big ones, yeah.

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, they turned out to be the big ones in looking back. We called it community, not social, at the time, but yeah. That was a great experience. I try to keep my hands in technology as much as I can. Sometimes my staff or people I work with are kind of looking at me askance. "You're supposed to be an executive. Why are you trying to write code?" I just like to stay close to things.

Tyler Suiters                      

I thought you were going to get called out for referencing the Atari 2600 or something like that.

Richard Robinson            

Yeah. Well, I won't go into BBSing. I would get called out for that. But that's actually part of my early career, but we'll skip over that one.

Tyler Suiters                      

Well, yeah, let's talk, Rick, about how that translates into your current role in product innovation. With a tech company, software company, product manufacturers, I think you can understand where innovation comes in. What about with an association like AARP?

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, so AARP has long been an innovator without kind of being called out as an innovator. A lot of things they've done for consumers in terms of advocacy, in terms of services and the products that they offer never existed before. For 60 years now, AARP's been recognized for doing that.

Richard Robinson            

A few years ago, however, they decided to create an Innovation Lab with a specific focus on creating new products and potentially new revenue streams for the association. The focus there is... Well, as I mentioned, it's to create new products. There's various ways that we do it. I should say, I came into the Innovation Lab 11 months ago, so I'm fairly new. But the Innovation Lab is also fairly new.

Richard Robinson            

There's sort of three tenets to it. One of them is a discipline area that follows a design thinking methodology to help the organization think through different problems that they have, or use cases, and help different parts of the organization solve those problems. Another element of the Innovation Lab is our working with startups. We do pitch competitions around the country. Some of those startups become part of our accelerated program inside of Innovation Lab. Then some of those startups may work with us, my team, to help build original products.

Richard Robinson            

But my team, which is the product development team inside of the Innovation Lab, is specifically focused on coming up with new ideas, testing them with consumers, building early prototypes, testing them again with consumers, going through that process, and very quickly within a matter of... I've tried to accelerate it, really. In a matter of a few months, get a pilot product out in front of consumers. And we've done that, and we're doing that.

Richard Robinson            

We've got four products out there now. I've got probably six in the hopper. Part of the way we're doing that is we're a bit of a microcosm. I have some product managers sit on the team, I have some developers, I've got designers. So our focus is to look at our audience, try to find unmet needs, find problems that need to be solved, and come up with original solutions.

Tyler Suiters                      

That's the what, so to speak, Rick. What about the why? When you hear a key word like "accessibility," I think each and every one of us has either a personal or at least an individualized understanding or expectation of what that means. Accessibility and AARP may not be an obvious connection, so what's the nexus in your mind?

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, so what we try to do is provide solutions, whether they're technology solutions or product solutions or services, that allow you to age as you want to age, in the best way that you can. That could be something that addresses an accessibility issue. For instance, just because you're, say, 70 years old, it doesn't mean you're not still interested in relationships. So we think about people as individuals, and we think of them not as categorized as "Oh, you have an accessibility issue." Instead we think of them as finding ways to provide solutions that kind of make the technology invisible.

Richard Robinson            

So rather than... I can't really give a specific example, but let's say someone who has difficulty with walking or getting around. We're looking at and thinking about ways to provide simpler solutions for people to do that who have accessibility issues in terms of mobility without it calling out to the world, "Oh, I have an accessibility issue."

Richard Robinson            

What I want to do is find solutions to those kinds of problems. Whether it's people who have hearing impairment, or whether it's people who have early onset dementia and can't recognize people who they otherwise would, and find solutions that disappear and become, as they say, indistinguishable from magic, that's the ideal, but also solves or addresses these issues. So it's not sort of calling out or highlighting to anyone else looking in from the outside that "Oh, you have a problem. That's why you need that X, that cane or that walker." We're looking at ways to provide new thinking around those kinds of things.

Richard Robinson            

People who are aging today... Some of the stats I could throw at you are like, every second, two people are celebrating their 60th birthday. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65. Another one that kind of blows people away is the fastest growing segment in the country is people over 85.

Tyler Suiters                      

Could you repeat that one more...

Richard Robinson            

The fastest growing segment in the country is people 85-plus.

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah, that seems illogical, right, almost?

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, it does, doesn't it? I'll throw one more at you. People over 50 in the U.S. generate $7.6 trillion annually.

Tyler Suiters                      

All right, there's a market opportunity, right?

Richard Robinson            

Exactly. Entrepreneurs, if you look at it, average entrepreneurs are over... Half of the entrepreneurs, sorry, in the U.S. are over 45. So you take that, and you take this giant market, and you take the market and you look at these folks... Of course, you can't generalize from 50 to 85. There are different segments within there. But a lot of folks who are over 50 now are much savvier technologically than they were 20 years ago. You have to take that into consideration when you're talking about developing products and marketing products to them.

Richard Robinson            

So my thought is to try to get VCs, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, focused on this segment. Not just because there's financial opportunity, which there obviously is an enormous opportunity for startups and for VCs to have a win on the other side, but there's huge demand. Part of what I try to do on the side is to, when I talk with startups and I work with startups, is try to get them interested in thinking about this space. Because it is so important, and frankly, so large. Yeah.

Tyler Suiters                      

So you are a CES veteran, both immediate past, right, the 2019 show-

Richard Robinson            

Correct. Yup, that's right.

Tyler Suiters                      

⁠—and a bit longer ago. I won't put a date-

Richard Robinson            

Oh, yeah. 20 years ago, maybe?

Tyler Suiters                      

Okay, you can put a date on it if you want, Rick. Can you talk about the opportunities you see at... I call it the new CES, but CES 2019, and how the tech space has evolved to show that virtually every company is or needs to be a tech company these days? Accessibility is one marketplace where I think that really shows.

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think today, so many problems are solved with technology. In fact, it's hard to find, outside of perhaps services, that are not solved with some sort of technology. Aside from that, so much technology is accessible today where it wasn't, say, 20 years ago in ways that it is today. One developer can develop some basic artificial intelligence and apply it to a product to do some really incredible things.

Richard Robinson            

We took three and a half weeks last year at the lab to develop an augmented reality application to both demonstrate the technology and also promote, frankly, our products on an app. There's a lot of buzzword technology. A couple I just mentioned there. Augmented reality, AI, and so on. And there's lots of others that are just available. So the bar has been lowered in terms of the threshold... Get my clichés right. It's easier to take advantage of the technologies that are available today than ever. It's almost like if you're not using it, there's no excuse not to be using it, in my opinion. Using a technology that is available to you to solve various problems.

Richard Robinson            

So yeah, if I see a completely analog company, I'm curious as to why. Because so many things can be achieved and solved with technology today. Aside from maybe, I don't know, paper production, I can't think of many segments that have not been touched or dramatically improved or evolved by technology. Certainly in the last decade, it's accelerated tremendously.

Tyler Suiters                      

Yeah. Rick Robinson is vice president of product innovation with AARP. Rick, let's keep this conversation going, all right? We'll see you in Las Vegas, CES 2020.

Richard Robinson            

Yeah, sounds great.

Tyler Suiters                      

All right, coming up next time on CES Tech Talk, we are addressing C Space at CES. If you haven't been, this is the spot where CMOs, content creators, Hollywood, the ad industry, media, they all convene. Leaders from all of these segments are in C Space discussing and investigating and diving into disruptive trends in those industries.

Tyler Suiters                      

Now, here at CTA, we're projecting that U.S. consumer spending on software and services, so think something like streaming services, is going to enjoy roughly 14% growth in 2019 alone. This is an area ripe for opportunity. So we are having an in-depth conversation with iHeartRadio.

Tyler Suiters                      

Hey, we want you to be CES-ready. You can subscribe to this CES Tech Talk podcast so you won't miss any episodes as you're gearing up for CES 2020. Speaking of, the show is January 7th through the 19th in Las Vegas. The information you need to get yourself ready, the details, the schedules, etc. all available at CES.tech.

Tyler Suiters                      

As always, none of this is possible without our true stars, our executive producer Tina Anthony and our senior studio engineer John Lindsey. You all are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon.

 
 

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