Deaf-communication pioneer to receive honorary degree at UW | Business
On May 18, Rob Engelke, chief executive officer of Ultratec, Inc., will receive an honorary doctorate at a commencement ceremony at the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
Engelke was cited for creating extraordinary advances that have enabled deaf and hard-of-hearing people worldwide to communicate via telephone.
In the 1970s, Engelke was building computers and selling them to campus researchers. At about the same time that Apple's founders were making computers in the garage, Engelke had already moved on.
Realizing that deaf people could not use the telephone, he decided to make a teletypewriter that could communicate via text. Although some deaf people were using clunky, costly teletypewriters cast off by newspapers, their supply was finite.
In 1977, Engelke founded Ultratec and began building a miniature, microprocessor-based teletypewriter that plugged into a regular phone line. The $150 device allowed deaf people to converse with anybody else who had a TTY, including the government agencies and emergency services that began buying from Ultratec.
Ultratec, unlike Apple, did not become a worldwide brand, but it did revolutionize telecommunications for the deaf in about 15 countries.
By listening to his customers in the deaf community, Engelke created two privately held firms that account for about 900 jobs at the University Research Park in Madison and a total of about 2,000 nationwide.