Comcast’s X1: Putting Customers with Disabilities in Control

The X1 platform is changing the way XFINITY customers with disabilities explore the world of film and TV.

Working to ensure our products and services are accessible to all of our customers, across all ranges of ability, is a top priority for our Comcast team (Comcast NBCUniversal is No. 29 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list). And it doesn’t stop there! Since Tom Wlodkowski joined Comcast Cable as Vice President of Accessibility in 2012, his team has been hyper-focused on enhancing the usability of our products and services, with a mission to enrich the customer experience for people with disabilities.

Established by Wlodkowski and his team in 2013, the Comcast Accessibility Lab is a place where developers collaborate to create accessible products and features that can be integrated into our existing platforms. The lab hosts a variety of tours for internal and external teams showcasing our cutting-edge innovations and demonstrating how people with differing abilities interact with today’s mainstream entertainment, mobile, and web interfaces.

“Our goal is to stay competitive by meeting and exceeding the expectations of our customers,” said Bret Perkins, Vice President of External Affairs at Comcast Corporation. “To meet these expectations, we have to think ahead of the curve and deliver the best products and services in ways that no one has before, and further enrich the customer experience for all users, including people with disabilities.”

Over 18 percent of Americans have a disability, and this community represents more than $200 billion in discretionary spending.1 Ensuring that our products meet the needs of these customers isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart for our business. But how? The answer requires commitment from across the business, and Comcast works to integrate accessibility into the culture of the company itself. Disability awareness events, targeted training programs, and other support services provided by the accessibility team help to drive employee engagement.

“It is essential for us to consider accessibility at all stages of product development, so that we can deliver a truly inclusive user experience,” said Tom Wlodkowski, Vice President of Accessibility at Comcast Cable. “Retrofitting accessibility support into an existing product can be costly and often leads to a sub-par experience.”

The X1 platform is a shining example of this principle put into practice. In 2014, Comcast launched the industry’s first voice-enabled television user interface, revolutionizing the way XFINITY TV customers navigate the X1 platform. With Voice Guidance, the X1 “talking guide” reads aloud selections from the X1 menu such as program titles, network names, and time slots, as well as DVR and On Demand settings, giving our customers who are blind or visually impaired the freedom to independently explore and navigate thousands of shows and movies. A simple voice command such as “show me NBC” allows viewers to find their favorite channels or programs quicker.

Voice control is a game changer for how our customers access entertainment and news, and for how are customers experience entertainment. Since its launch in May 2015, we have deployed over eight million Voice Remotes, and we get more than 200 million voice commands per month.

Wlodkowski cites consumer engagement as an essential component to deliver accessible solutions. The accessibility team has individuals with disabilities that support product accessibility testing during the development process. This summer, several customers who are blind or visually impaired were invited to test new functionality that expands coverage of the talking guide to new areas of the X1 interface.

“Accessibility cannot be built in a vacuum,” Wlodkowski said. “We need to understand challenges with current technologies, as well as new opportunities to enhance the value of our services.”

Earlier this year, Comcast celebrated the grand opening of a new 80,000-square-foot Center of Excellence, which is partially dedicated to serving customers with disabilities. Agents in our Accessibility Center of Excellence are specially trained on all things related to our accessibility features and general support issues, including closed captioning and video description.

“Accessibility is part of our company’s DNA,” Perkins added. “Comcast has a proven track record of collaborating with advocacy organizations, stakeholders from government agencies, and tech entrepreneurs leading the accessibility space to ensure our customers with disabilities are considered from the earliest stages of development. We then work closely with community leaders and advocates to ensure our commitment to accessibility reaches those who need it. These are partnerships we have built over a long history of successes and lessons learned in the accessibility space, and we are extremely proud to be leading the way.”

1Brault, M. (n.d.). Americans With Disabilities: 2010. 70-131. Retrieved August, 2016, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

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