[Nfbc-info] FYI Comcast's talking Program Guide/ArticlefromPhiladelphia Inquirer

Lauren Merryfield lauren1 at catliness.com
Wed Aug 28 23:50:20 UTC 2013

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new beginning."  Bob Perks
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----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Rob Kaiser" <rcubfank at sbcglobal.net>
To: "NFB of California List" <nfbc-info at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 1:36 PM
Subject: Re: [Nfbc-info] FYI Comcast's talking Program 
Guide/ArticlefromPhiladelphia Inquirer

> Wel, this is a start.
> Hopefully, it will be a way of things to come for other cable providers.
> -----Original Message----- 
> From: Michael Hingson
> Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:55 PM
> To: 'NFB Talk Mailing List' ; 'Research and Development Committee 
> (appointed)' ; nfbc-info at nfbnet.org ; nfbnet-members-list at nfbnet.org
> Subject: [Nfbc-info] FYI Comcast's talking Program Guide/Article 
> fromPhiladelphia Inquirer
> Blind Comcast exec developing a talking TV channel guide
> Comcast Corp. has hired a sight-challenged executive, Tom Wlodskowski, 
> Vice
> President/Accessibility, to develop a "talking TV interface" for the blind
> and other accessible products for the disabled. The talking TV guide could
> be out in 2014 as part of X2 channel guide and available for everyone.  (
> CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
> Bob Fernandez, Inquirer Staff Writer
> POSTED: Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 1:08 AM
> www.inquirer.com
> How does a blind person find what to "watch" on a TV with 200 channels and
> 46,000 video-on-demand choices of movies, shows, and clips? Tom 
> Wlodkowski,
> a blind executive at Comcast Corp., thinks he has the answer: a talking TV
> channel guide.
> No joke.
> "The television is not strictly as visual a medium as you might think," 
> said
> David Goldfield, a computer technology instructor at the Associated 
> Services
> for the Blind and Visually Impaired. "Radio drama in the U.S. is more or
> less dead. If you are blind and you want a good story, you're still going 
> to
> get it on television."
> Comcast expects the talking guide to come with its next-generation X2
> platform in 2014. The cable giant demonstrated the talking guide this year
> at a California technology conference and at the cable-TV-industry trade
> show in Washington.
> Comcast also market-tested the guide with 20 average-Joe-type 
> sight-impaired
> individuals in Philadelphia, arranged by the Associated Services for the
> Blind and Visually Impaired.
> The interactive, cloud-based guide - the current voice is a woman, but 
> users
> eventually could choose the voice, as they can with a ring tone - responds
> to buttons the person pushes.
> This is part of a year-old project at Comcast to make the company's 
> products
> more accessible to customers with disabilities. Wlodkowski has an
> "accessibility" team and will soon have a lab in the Comcast Center.
> Comcast isn't doing this just to reach out to the nation's 1.3 million 
> blind
> individuals who fear being left behind as popular culture and media go
> digital on the Internet and TV.
> The Twenty-First Century Communications and Accessibility Act of 2010,
> passed on the 20-year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 
> is
> forcing technology companies to integrate accessibility functions into
> products. It's believed that, in three years, talking interfaces will have
> to come with TV products.
> Wlodkowski thinks he also can drive business. People with disabilities
> account for $200 billion in discretionary spending power, and catering to
> their needs, he believes, can boost brand loyalty.
> "We will meet the requirements of the law, but we also believe there can 
> be
> innovation," he said.
> Wlodkowski is looking to develop products that could help older Americans
> "age in place" through the Xfinity home products, which now include home
> security.
> Generally, technology companies - with the exception of Apple Inc. - have
> received poor marks in the selling of blind-friendly products.
> "We see it as a civil right, and we see manufacturers embracing
> accessibility way too slowly," Lauren McLarney, government affairs
> specialist at the National Federation of the Blind, said of consumer
> electronics and technology companies. Comcast's talking guide sounds
> "worthwhile," but she hasn't seen it.
> The association offers a channel guide by zip code called "newsline" that
> last year was accessed 600,000 times.
> Before the talking guide, Wlodkowski said, he would have to recognize Matt
> Lauer's voice at NBC or Anderson Cooper on CNN. He also memorized channel
> numbers. But most times, he had no idea what was on the channel.
> "The only way I could navigate TV before," Wlodkowski said, "was to go up
> and down the channels and listen until I found something that I liked."
> Recently, he was fiddling with a talking TV guide and stumbled on Brady
> Bunch reruns. "They still syndicate that? Wow," he said.
> Formerly with AOL Inc., Wlodkowski is the vice president of accessibility
> and said his team at Comcast had four goals:
> To seek information from disabled customers about what they need and how
> they interact with Comcast's products.
> To integrate functionality into products so they can be more easily used 
> by
> disabled subscribers.
> To introduce specific products, such as the talking guide.
> To enhance customer service for disabled subscribers.
> Wlodkowski, who was born blind, was raised in Southington, Conn., with 
> three
> older brothers. His parents insisted on a regular childhood. He rode a 
> bike
> in the neighborhood, skied with a guide, and marched in the marching band
> (he beat the snare drum).
> His most popular sitcom was Cheers because, he said, "it was relatively 
> easy
> to follow. When Norm walked in, everybody said, 'Hi, Norm.' "
> He attended Boston College, majoring in communications. His first media 
> job
> was with WGBH, the public broadcasting station in Boston. While there,
> Wlodkowski developed, with a federal grant from the Department of 
> Education,
> a prototype of a talking TV interface. It was never commercialized.
> Wlodkowski said he was happy to be back in a city with mass transit and
> lives in an apartment at 17th and Arch Streets. His wife, Michele, and
> 15-year-old son, Colin, will relocate from Virginia, and he intends to buy 
> a
> suburban home near a rail line.
> One challenging experience in Philadelphia has been mastering the 
> elevators
> at the sky-high Comcast Center. There are more than 30 elevators, and some
> go only to certain floors.
> "Catching the elevator in this place," Wlodkowski said, "is an art that I
> don't think I have figured out."
> Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez at phillynews.com, or
> follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.
> Bob Fernandez
> Inquirer Staff Writer
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