2003 Distinguished Service Award: Robert Engelke

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Robert M. Engelke
President
Ultratec, Inc.
BSCE ’67

When people who are deaf or hard of hearing speak, Robert Engelke listens. As a result, his company’s many innovations enable them to “listen,” too.

For more than 25 years, Engelke has designed and developed text-telephone (TTY) technologies and devices for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1967 from UW-Madison where he later became a lecturer. Later, as a researcher at the college’s Trace Research & Development Center, he helped design assistive devices for people with a range of disabilities. He founded Ultratec in 1978 — back when a TTY cost as much as $1,000.

Since then, Engelke has been instrumental in bringing new and affordable communications technologies to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, including a pocket-sized TTY, a pay-phone TTY, and a large visual-display TTY for people who are both low-vision and hard of hearing. Among Ultratec’s innovations is the captioned telephone, an instrument that delivers both text and sound. Engelke refines his technologies based on user comments and has received more than 25 U.S. and numerous foreign patents.

In addition, Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. (TDI), an international agency that promotes telecommunications access for the disabled, named him one of the 30 most influential people in telecommunications accessibility for America’s deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens. The organization also bestowed on Engelke its Andrew Saks Engineering Award for his contributions to improving telecommunications accessibility. His other recent honors include a Wisconsin Governor’s Workforce Innovation Award, recognizing Ultratec’s innovative approaches and solutions to developing and sustaining the state’s workforce, and recognition from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers for outstanding achievement in information technology in accessibility for Fastran and CapTel technology.

Engelke lives with his wife, Susan, who received an MS in computer sciences from UW-Madison and is executive vice president of Ultratec. They have two sons: Christopher, a graduate student in anthropology at Northern Arizona University; and Timothy, a junior at UW-Madison studying political science. The family enjoys sailing, tennis, golf, and downhill and cross-country skiing.