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Technology has the ability to transform the lives of people with disabilities and older adults

A conversation with Steve Ewell, executive director, Consumer Technology Association Foundation, and Keely Cat-Wells, founder & CEO, Making Space

In this episode of Work in Progress, I’m joined by Steve Ewell, executive director of Consumer Technology Association Foundation, and Keely Cat-Wells, founder & CEO of Making Space, to discuss how technology in improving access to jobs and career advancement for older adults and people with disabilities.

Using tech to advance accessibility at work and at home was a key theme at this year’s big CES 2024 conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. It is also the mission of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the organization that runs the conference.

Executive director Steve Ewell says the Foundation was created to serve “two growing, yet often overlooked, populations: older adults and people with disabilities. We really approach ways to use technology to improve lives of people in those populations.”

“It’s really serving to both recognize companies that are doing this work really well, but also serving as a little bit of a carrot to attract the attention of companies that maybe hadn’t addressed aging or disability yet.”

Ewell adds, “There’s so much incredible innovation out there. Technology holds the promise to really improve lives across the board. When I meet these founders and look at the types of ideas that they’re creating, the problems that they’re trying to solve, I’m really a technology optimist for the opportunities that this technology can provide across work, home, and play.

“The other piece that often gets ignored is you can live independently at home, and you can go to work, but if you don’t have the opportunity to go out to a restaurant with friends, go to a movie, do other things like that, that’s another opportunity for technology to really create those connections and create just that meaningful life that people can have.”

Among the startups catching the attention of CTA Foundation this year is Making Space, an accessible talent acquisition and learning experience platform that allows media companies to identify, train and access disabled, overlooked, and underrepresented talent pools.

CEO Keely Cat-Wells explains that she founded Making Space as a result of her own personal experience as a person with a hidden disability in the workforce.

“I was training to be a dancer in my teens, and then II became very unwell and then ended up spending a lot of my years in hospital. I got misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, and went through a lot of medical malpractice and trauma, and basically came out the other side of hospital as a disabled person.

“I live with chronic illness and a hidden disability. I had never been in that space before. I had no idea what to expect, and I just started realizing that the world was so inaccessible.”

She says she was hired by a company in the entertainment industry, but after disclosing her disability and asking for accommodations and access requirements, she was told she no longer have the job.

“That was the light bulb moment for me that I really wanted to do something and try and make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else and just create a more equitable and accessible world for disabled people,” says Cat-Wells.

She says that Making Space has “built a tool and a feature within our platform that turns our lived experience of disability into transferable skills and professional strengths.” The company has now partnered with Netflix and Comcast NBCUniversal to provide training and access to jobs in the entertainment industry.

Learn more about those partnerships by listening to the podcast here, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find the conversation on our new Work in Progress YouTube channel.

Episode 303: Steve Ewell, executive director, Consumer Technology Association Foundation, and Keely Cat-Wells, founder & CEO, Making Space
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Transcript: Download the transcript for this episode here
Work in Progress Podcast: Catch up on previous episodes here