We live in a world that is becoming increasingly focused on and concerned about equality. Those who take the time to look more closely at the societies we’ve built can see that there are some gross injustices. So they have begun taking steps to right those wrongs so that we can continue to make things better for the generations to come.
For many people, when they hear the word equality they think about racial equality, gender equality, economic equality, etc. But one group of people that often gets overlooked are the disabled. According to the CDC, more than 61 million American adults have some sort of disability, whether physical or mental, which amounts to about 25% of the population.
However, despite making up such a large part of the population, the disabled are often not talked about in mainstream discussions about equality. But this is slowly changing. As evidence of this, Comcast, the nation’s largest provider of cable TV and broadband internet service, is taking big steps to help make their products and services more available to people with disabilities.
Here’s everything you need to know about how Comcast is promoting accessibility.
Before diving into the specific ways in which Comcast is promoting accessibility, it’s important to first take a moment to understand what accessibility even means.
In short, it means making products, services, information, etc. “accessible” to people with disabilities. To be a bit more specific, here’s a collated definition from NC State University:
Accessible means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability.
As you can see, there is a bit more to accessibility than first meets the eye. For example, accessibility is not the same as “usability.” Just because a person with a disability might be able to use something, if they are not able to do so in the same way, or have the same experience as someone without a disability, then that thing isn’t really accessible.
In addition, for something to be accessible, people with all types of disabilities must be able to use it. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1975, defined a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.”
This includes, but is not limited to, the following disabilities:
Therefore, to make something accessible, you must make sure that anyone with any type of disability can do that thing in the same way a person without a disability could.
This has been one of the challenges in the effort to make the world more accessible. That and the fact that a lot of accessibility solutions are designed without people who have disabilities, so they are sometimes either ineffective or downright oblivious to these people’s real needs.
Champions of accessibility say we still have a long way to go towards making the world more available to everyone. But great strides have been made in the past few decades, largely thanks to the passage of the ADA. This piece of legislation forbids discrimination of any kind, and ensured equal employment opportunities, for anyone with a disability.
In several cases, the ADA has been added to or expanded upon with additional legislation. One such law, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, is of particular importance to companies such as Comcast. It was designed to make sure people with disabilities have access to the latest technologies, particularly broadband internet. For a detailed list of all the different laws that have been passed to promote accessibility, check out this resource.
Thanks to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, Comcast, along with other cable and internet providers, were forced to take a look at their accessibility. But Comcast has put in extra effort to make sure that its products and services are available to everyone. Here is everything the telecommunications giant has done (or is doing) to promote accessibility.
Since cable TV is mainly an audio/visual experience, many of Comcast’s efforts in the world of accessibility address the challenges those with audio/visual disabilities may face. One of the ways they have done this is by creating the Talking Guide.
As the name suggests, this is a feature that will read out the information from the TV guide so that those who are visually impaired can learn what is on TV and choose a program to experience.
In addition to this, Comcast has also enabled Video Description. This allows visually impaired or Blind users to hear descriptions of what is going on in the show, something that is helpful when there are scenes without dialogue.
Together, these two tools make it easier than ever for people with visual disabilities to enjoy TV and all it has to offer.
Another way in which Comcast has helped make it easier for people with sight disabilities to watch TV is by introducing the Voice Remote.
Once again, the name says it all. This is a television remote that lets you control your cable simply by talking, something that makes it much easier for blind and visually impaired people to enjoy TV.
In addition to having voice controls, the Voice Remote also has a number of accessibility features built right in. For example, the “B” button on the remote, when pressed, will bring you directly to all the accessibility options Comcast offers, making it easier to change settings and personalize your service for whatever you need.
Also, if you speak “Accessibility Tips” into your remote, it will take you to a screen where you can see or hear about all the different accessibility options at your fingertips, allowing you to personalize your service and make sure it accommodates your needs.
Additionally, Comcast also provides extensive Closed Captioning support, which is designed to make TV more accessible for Deaf and hearing-impaired individuals.
For those who don’t know, Closed Captioning is the text that appears at the bottom of the screen that not only spells out dialogue but also alerts viewers to any other sounds happening on screen, such as “Woman screams in the distance.”
With cable TV from Comcast, you get additional Closed Captioning options.
For example, you can customize the size, font, and color of the text, as well as where it appears on your screen. You can also program different buttons on your remote to automatically turn Closed Captioning on and off, all of which make the service more accessible to those who either can’t hear or have serious trouble doing so.
In addition to making its services available to those with audio and visual disabilities, Comcast is also concerned with making sure those who have mobility issues can still watch TV. Although those of us without disabilities don’t often think of watching TV as something that requires us to be mobile, lifting the remote, changing the channel, resetting the box when there’s an issue all require abilities that some people simply don’t have.
To make sure these individuals can still watch TV, Comcast has developed (and just begun releasing) technology that allows users to use Comcast’s services simply by using their eyes. The technology tracks their eye movements and uses several cues to make choices, allowing people who were never before able to watch TV to be able to do so.
Up until now, we’ve discussed the efforts Comcast has made to make sure its products and services can be used by everyone. But there is another layer: customer service. If you are Deaf or hearing impaired and something goes wrong with your service, you can’t just call up the help center. Or can you?
With Comcast’s Accessibility Support Center for Customers With Disabilities, individuals are specifically trained to be able to help customers with disabilities. They are experts in all of Comcast’s accessibility options, allowing them to point customers to the right resources, and they are also taught to be extra sensitive to this community so that they can provide even better service.
Additionally, in this center, there is a full-time staff that speaks American Sign Language, and they have also created a whole host of videos that people with auditory disabilities can access online to get help with an issue.
For years, Comcast has supported the Paralympic Games and its athletes, but it has shown its dedication to this cause by agreeing to be a founding member of the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will be the first time that the Paralympic Games will be held in Los Angeles.
By doing this, Comcast is reaffirming its commitment to accessibility by making it known that it is willing to invest time and resources into tackling this inequality that exists in our world and opening up more opportunities for people with disabilities.
Yet another way in which Comcast promotes accessibility is through its Accessibility Lab. This is essentially a research arm of the company that is solely focused on making sure that Comcast’s products and services are fully accessible to everyone.
It’s from this lab that we got things such as the Talking Guide and the Voice Remote, and the company’s continued investment in this type of thing shows that it takes accessibility seriously and will continue to fight for it, and contribute to it in any way it can, now and into the future.
One of the ways a product or service might become inaccessible is through cost. If a person with a disability must incur an additional expense to be able to do something, then it’s not really accessible.
This is why customers who have a physical or visual disability that prevents them from using a telephone will not be charged for Voice Directory Assistance and/or Operator Services. For those who don’t know, these services are the old 411 – if you need to know a number, call up and ask.
If you don’t have a disability, this would normally involve a Google search. But Comcast’s decision to waive these fees makes it easier for everyone to find the information you need.
Another way in which Comcast makes sure people with disabilities don’t incur additional costs is by providing channel lineups and bills in Braille and large print, as well as other accessible formats, at no additional cost.
For years, the US has been fighting what is called the “digital divide.” This refers to the inequalities that exist when it comes to access to digital technologies – phones, computers, broadband internet, etc.
Typically, the digital divide is thought of in terms of urban/rural or rich/poor. But there is another component: people with disabilities. In fact, a study from Pew Research Center found that disabled Americans are 20 percent less likely to have a broadband internet connection, and they are three times as likely as non-disabled Americans to say they “never” go online.
Part of the reason for this is cost. Many Americans with disabilities are unable to work, and so they cannot afford broadband internet. To combat this, Comcast, just in 2019, expanded its Internet Essential program – which is designed to help low-income customers access the internet – to people with disabilities. To qualify, you need to receive disability benefits from Social Security or Medicaid.
This, combined with the various tools and technologies Comcast has created to make its service more accessible, ensures that disabled Americans can use the internet and watch TV just like everyone else.
Clearly, Comcast has spent a good amount of time and money on promoting accessibility. But why? We can’t, of course, know their true motive, but here are a few reasons why Comcast is so focused on this social issue.
There’s a heavy dose of morality and ethics involved in these actions. Not taking the time to address accessibility is basically the same as saying disabled Americans don’t matter. Therefore, by putting all this time and effort into accessibility, the company is making a statement about its values, and showing that it’s willing and able to do the “right thing” when it comes time to do so.
It’s no secret that Comcast doesn’t have the best image in the eyes of consumers. Cable companies have been raising prices on their customers for decades, and their customer service operation has historically been viewed rather negatively.
Therefore, by spending some time addressing accessibility and taking the lead on this in the industry, Comcast is taking steps to shore up its image and try to bring itself back into good favor with its customers.
Of course, for this to truly work they need to also address some of these other issues, but there is no doubt that improving the company’s reputation is part of the motivation behind their accessibility efforts.
Although it’s somewhat crude to think about, the reality is that by focusing on accessibility, Comcast is opening itself up to new customers. People who may have shied away from getting a cable or internet subscription before as a result of their disability may no longer hold back.
We’re not cynical enough to say that this is the sole reason why Comcast has been doing this (and it’s probably true that all these efforts “lose” them money) but as a for-profit company, it’s always something that might be lurking in the background.
Lastly, Comcast may be interested in accessibility because doing so helps spur innovation. Having to think outside the box to make sure products and services are more accessible has helped the company create new things that can have even more extensive applications.
For example, the Voice Remote is not only for people with disabilities, it is used by everyone. In fact, according to Comcast, these remotes process more than half a billion commands every month. And the Eye Control service has been deemed one of the most significant inventions of 2019.
Here is another example of why diversity is so important. When people from different backgrounds with different needs team up, they often discover new ways of doing things that can have far-reaching impacts on all of society.
As you can see, Comcast has done (and is doing) a considerable amount to promote accessibility and make sure that not only its products can be used by all but that people with disabilities face less discrimination and are treated more equally within society. In general, the world has made a lot of progress in this fight, but there is a ton of work left to do. So, while Comcast has certainly made an effort, the fight for equality goes on, now and forever.