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New Technology Intrigues Beaver County Association for the Blind, Assists Everyone

July 5, 2017

By Christopher Maggio

Joel Moffatt, Customer Experience Lead on Comcast’s Accessibility Team, demonstrated X1’s accessibility features—some established, others coming very soon—to clients of the Beaver County Association for the Blind. The demonstration was Wed., June 14 at the new Xfinity store in Robinson Township.

X1 is Xfinity’s cloud-based television platform. Users don’t pay extra for it, and it updates automatically every few months. Updates include accessibility features, one of which Moffatt used to open his talk. “Voice guidance,” he said into his remote control. The flat screen behind him spoke back, prompting him to press the right arrow key and then OK to enable. He explained the extra step prevents the television from immediately talking should one’s dog or cat step on the remote.

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The flat screen read the movies on OnDemand. Moffatt asked the audience if this was better than having someone read the titles aloud. The audience assented.

The flat screen described selected films, including runtime, parental rating, and even Rotten Tomatoes score. Helpful? Yes. Time-consuming? Potentially, especially if one were looking for a certain genre and didn’t want to browse casually.

“What if we could take the signposts out of the journey and just get to the destination?” Moffatt asked. “Movies with video description,” he said into the remote.

Results included NBC’s live broadcasts of Hairspray and The Wiz, but Moffatt chose the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz to demonstrate X1’s SAP (secondary audio programming) feature.

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“Against a cloud-swept sky, a title appears: The Wizard of Oz,” the flat screen said. In a few short words, the recorded voice, feminine and soothing, painted an effective auditory picture of the film’s opening still.

X1 will in a few weeks allow users to adjust the speed of its screen reader. Voice guidance options will include “regular,” “fast,” and “fastest.” Moffatt demonstrated “fastest” with a synopsis of 2013’s Man of Steel. The screen reader read the synopsis at a quick yet intelligible clip.

A man in the audience offered his take: “Sounds like my wife.” The crowd laughed. Moffatt chuckled, but noted that for people who have used screen readers their entire lives, “fastest” may be the desirable setting for them.

He used the idea of a screen reader to compare curb cuts with electronic disability services. Curb cuts were designed primarily for people in wheelchairs, but they benefit everyone: parents with strollers, movers with dolly carts, skateboarders. As curb cuts assist beyond their intended demographic, so do disability services. He concluded that people whose work screens have fatigued their eyes can have their emails read to them at home courtesy of a screen reader.

Moffatt last outlined the Xfinity TV Remote App for iOS and Android devices. This app puts people’s remote controls on their phones and can read aloud the buttons.

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Innovations such as these are what attracted many clients of the Beaver County Association for the Blind to the event. They attended it as part of the association’s weekly life skills classes.

“I wanted to see the different items he had available and see if I could use any of them,” Alvin Zalewski said. Zalewski, a client who lives alone, said he liked the idea of the remote reading the text on the screen for him.

The event ended with Comcast presenting the Beaver County Association for the Blind with a $500 check. The crowd and organizers applauded. Technology is getting more inclusive for not only the blind, but also anyone who wishes to better their viewing experience.

The Robinson store opens 10 a.m. Mon., June 19 and is the fourth store in the Pittsburgh area. Its opening precedes the launch of Xfinity Mobile July 30.