[tabi] Fw: [leadership] Comcast's talking Program Guide/Article fromPhiladelphia Inquirer

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  • Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2013 07:34:41 -0400

----- Original Message ----- 
From: George Holliday 
To: leadership 
Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 1:37 PM
Subject: [leadership] Comcast's talking Program Guide/Article fromPhiladelphia 


Blind Comcast exec developing a talking TV channel guide

Comcast Corp. has hired a sight-challenged executive, Tom Wlodskowski, Vice 
President/Accessibility, to develop a "talking TV interface" for the blind and 
other accessible products for the disabled. The talking TV guide could be out 
in 2014 as part of X2 channel guide and available for everyone.  ( CHARLES FOX 
/ Staff Photographer ) 

Bob Fernandez, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 1:08 AM 


How does a blind person find what to "watch" on a TV with 200 channels and 
46,000 video-on-demand choices of movies, shows, and clips? Tom Wlodkowski, a 
blind executive at Comcast Corp., thinks he has the answer: a talking TV 
channel guide.

No joke.

"The television is not strictly as visual a medium as you might think," said 
David Goldfield, a computer technology instructor at the Associated Services 
for the Blind and Visually Impaired. "Radio drama in the U.S. is more or less 
dead. If you are blind and you want a good story, you're still going to get it 
on television."

Comcast expects the talking guide to come with its next-generation X2 platform 
in 2014. The cable giant demonstrated the talking guide this year at a 
California technology conference and at the cable-TV-industry trade show in 

Comcast also market-tested the guide with 20 average-Joe-type sight-impaired 
individuals in Philadelphia, arranged by the Associated Services for the Blind 
and Visually Impaired.

The interactive, cloud-based guide - the current voice is a woman, but users 
eventually could choose the voice, as they can with a ring tone - responds to 
buttons the person pushes.

This is part of a year-old project at Comcast to make the company's products 
more accessible to customers with disabilities. Wlodkowski has an 
"accessibility" team and will soon have a lab in the Comcast Center.

Comcast isn't doing this just to reach out to the nation's 1.3 million blind 
individuals who fear being left behind as popular culture and media go digital 
on the Internet and TV.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Accessibility Act of 2010, passed 
on the 20-year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, is forcing 
technology companies to integrate accessibility functions into products. It's 
believed that, in three years, talking interfaces will have to come with TV 

Wlodkowski thinks he also can drive business. People with disabilities account 
for $200 billion in discretionary spending power, and catering to their needs, 
he believes, can boost brand loyalty.

"We will meet the requirements of the law, but we also believe there can be 
innovation," he said.

Wlodkowski is looking to develop products that could help older Americans "age 
in place" through the Xfinity home products, which now include home security.

Generally, technology companies - with the exception of Apple Inc. - have 
received poor marks in the selling of blind-friendly products.

"We see it as a civil right, and we see manufacturers embracing accessibility 
way too slowly," Lauren McLarney, government affairs specialist at the National 
Federation of the Blind, said of consumer electronics and technology companies. 
Comcast's talking guide sounds "worthwhile," but she hasn't seen it.

The association offers a channel guide by zip code called "newsline" that last 
year was accessed 600,000 times.

Before the talking guide, Wlodkowski said, he would have to recognize Matt 
Lauer's voice at NBC or Anderson Cooper on CNN. He also memorized channel 
numbers. But most times, he had no idea what was on the channel.

"The only way I could navigate TV before," Wlodkowski said, "was to go up and 
down the channels and listen until I found something that I liked."

Recently, he was fiddling with a talking TV guide and stumbled on Brady Bunch 
reruns. "They still syndicate that? Wow," he said.

Formerly with AOL Inc., Wlodkowski is the vice president of accessibility and 
said his team at Comcast had four goals:

To seek information from disabled customers about what they need and how they 
interact with Comcast's products.

To integrate functionality into products so they can be more easily used by 
disabled subscribers.

To introduce specific products, such as the talking guide.

To enhance customer service for disabled subscribers.

Wlodkowski, who was born blind, was raised in Southington, Conn., with three 
older brothers. His parents insisted on a regular childhood. He rode a bike in 
the neighborhood, skied with a guide, and marched in the marching band (he beat 
the snare drum).

His most popular sitcom was Cheers because, he said, "it was relatively easy to 
follow. When Norm walked in, everybody said, 'Hi, Norm.' "

He attended Boston College, majoring in communications. His first media job was 
with WGBH, the public broadcasting station in Boston. While there, Wlodkowski 
developed, with a federal grant from the Department of Education, a prototype 
of a talking TV interface. It was never commercialized.

Wlodkowski said he was happy to be back in a city with mass transit and lives 
in an apartment at 17th and Arch Streets. His wife, Michele, and 15-year-old 
son, Colin, will relocate from Virginia, and he intends to buy a suburban home 
near a rail line.

One challenging experience in Philadelphia has been mastering the elevators at 
the sky-high Comcast Center. There are more than 30 elevators, and some go only 
to certain floors.

"Catching the elevator in this place," Wlodkowski said, "is an art that I don't 
think I have figured out."


Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, or 
follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.

Bob Fernandez

Inquirer Staff Writer



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