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Comcast built a talking TV guide

It's a way for blind or visually impaired to explore the "1,000-channel universe," said Comcast's VP of Accessibility Tom Wlodkowski.

For Accessibility month of Technical.ly's editorial calendar, we're putting together an overview of important terms to know. Here's how to help.

It's May, the month when we at Technical.ly celebrate both Philly Tech Week in our HQ city and Accessibility month of our editorial calendar.
A quick recap of the year's editorial calendar coverage so far: We're defining "accessibility" as the design of technology — products, devices, services, environments — that is inclusive of as many groups of people as possible. Our reporting this month might include an explainer on how to build a more universally usable website, a profile on a notable local advocate or a deep dive into how inclusive — of all abilities and qualities — your city's tech meetups really are. Some past reporting on the topic: This month, we've already published one story as part of the theme, on some of the ways Philly tech orgs are trying to make their spaces more accessible. Want to pitch a story or get featured in our coverage this month? Learn more here. We're also planning a roundup explainer of accessibility terms to know — think person-first language and assistive technology — for the end of the month, as we did with cybersecurity in both D.C. and Baltimore in April. Send us your ideas for inclusion: [link href="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSddCbOOkyIkIHi9DXLk8yhZJOC_n6vS2HQ627kZeGcM-MhtFg/viewform" text="Suggest an accessibility term for definition"]

In the coming weeks, Comcast customers will be able to use the company’s new “talking” TV guide, built for the blind or visually impaired. The company says it’s the first of its kind in the industry.

It’s a way for blind or visually impaired to explore the “1,000-channel universe,” said Comcast’s VP of Accessibility Tom Wlodkowski, who was born blind. Previously, the only way for those customers to choose what to watch would be to use the up/down buttons on a remote to flip through channels and listen to a snippet of each show.

Now, customers can use the talking guide, which reads what’s on the screen and gives prompts, to navigate channels, on-demand and DVR. “Of about 22 million Xfinity TV subscribers, 600,000 to 700,000 could be classified as blind or visually impaired, based on national statistics,” according to the Inquirer.

See it in action below.

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Wlodkowski, who lives on the Main Line and used to be AOL’s director of accessibility, describes the talking TV guide and other accessibility-minded products his team is building (like a TV guide that can be controlled with your eyes for someone who has a disease like cerebral palsy) as a “digital curb cut.”

In terms of the talking TV guide, Wlodkowski said there’s a broader value, too: people with literacy disabilities could use it, as could seniors or people who speak English as a second language.

The talking TV guide has its roots in Comcast’s 2012 Lab Week, a science fair of sorts where Comcast employees demo side projects. Wlodkowski joined the company around the same time and led the project. Except for the text-to-speech software, which was built by a third-party, the guide was built by a team in Philly, including former technical lead Andrew Larkin, who ran the Philadelphia Accessibility Meetup until he left for Chicago last summer. Read more about the making of the guide here.

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Companies: Comcast
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