Technology is such an integral part of most people’s lives that it’s easy to forget that many can’t adapt as easily to the computers and advanced smartphones that have become so essential to society.

That’s why the Consumer Electronics Assn. has been providing grants to organizations such as Older Adults Technology Services, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Hearing Loss Assn. of America and several others that focus on connecting tech with seniors and those with disabilities.

“We wanted (to contribute to) something that was important to our industry, but also (wanted to focus on) an area that we could make a significant difference in,” explained Stephen Ewell, executive director of the CEA Foundation, which bowed last year.

The foundation will host a panel on Jan. 7, called Consumer Electronics Can Change the World as part of a dialogue between big technology companies and the organizations they support.

Ewell estimates that the foundation, since its inception, has awarded more than $500,000 to a variety of organizations. The org assisted the Foundation for the Blind in a study about how to maximize the effectiveness of small visual displays, such as those for cell phones, for people afflicted with a range of vision loss.

According to Ewell, applications such as Skype can be of great use to the hard of hearing, who may find a telephone problematic, but may be able to use sign language or lip read. Both vision and hearing loss become an issue for seniors, who constitute 13% of the population, according to census data.

Ewell said homebound seniors also have problems with social isolation. “If they’re not able to see their friends or family on a regular basis, that can have a really significant impact both physically and mentally on their health,” he said. One of the orgs that the CEA Foundation supports, Selfhelp Community Services, makes it easier for homebound seniors to engage with their peers, offering a virtual community center that provides participants with a touch-screen device to communicate with friends and family. It also holds video-based classes and helps seniors meet people.