PHILADELPHIA — 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.
“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, D.C.
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.
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.
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.
Formerly with AOL Inc., Wlodkowski 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.