Comcast launched an accessibility-minded feature this week, allowing customers to control their televisions — change the channel, search through shows or record a program — just by moving their eyes.
The feature, called Xfinity X1 eye control, uses a web-based remote control that works with existing eye gaze hardware and software to control television settings.
It rolled out Monday, and is free to all customers.
Controlling our televisions is something most people take for granted, Comcast VP of Accessibility Tom Wlodkowski said. But for people with physical disabilities like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or who’ve had spinal cord injuries, using a remote can be challenging.
To set up X1, customers can visit xfin.tv/access to pair the web-based remote with their set-top-box. After that, each time the customer gazes at a button, the web-based remote sends the corresponding command to the television.
“Your eyes become the mouse, and hovering over the button is what ‘clicks’ it,” Wlodkowski told Technical.ly Philly.
This is the latest feature that Wlodkowski, who was born blind, has helped create with the accessibility team at Comcast. His team has rolled out a support center for customers with disabilities and introduced the “talking” TV guide in 2014, which better allows visually impaired customers to explore channels.
The eye product feature was originally developed specifically for a user who has ALS, but eventually the accessibility team moved the product along into development. For about a year the team build the product, tested it with users and added user experience details.
“When you make a product more inclusive, you create a better experience for everyone, and we’re hoping our new X1 feature makes a real difference in the lives of our customers,” Wlodkowski said.
Jimmy Curran, a health insurance researcher at Independence Blue Cross who has spinal muscular atrophy, was one of the first customers to try out the X1 feature.
Curran said Comcast originally reached out to him via his website [dis]ABLE, an organization aimed at de-stigmatizing disabilities. The company wanted to know if he’d try out the X1 feature.
Curran, a huge Philly sports fan, said he lives by himself and is assisted by at-home health aids. Someone could turn the TV on for him and switch around programs, but if they leave, he’d be stuck watching whatever program comes next.
“It’s really nice to be able to use the TV by myself,” he said. “It enabled me to operate independently.”
Advancements in technology have assisted disabled folks a lot, Curran said, adding that his iPhone is the single most helpful device he’s ever had.
New features for customers are always being brainstormed, Wlodkowski said. They stay in touch with disability organizations and often bring people that represent cross-disabilities for roundtable discussions.
“Comcast is really committed to building experiences that are inclusive to everyone,” Wlodkowski said.