Working Towards Digital Inclusion for Americans with Disabilities
Today, on International Day of Disabled Persons, it's important not only to raise public awareness about people with disabilities, but also to find ways to further empower and equip these individuals with the tools to become participants in our digital economy. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are almost three times less likely to use the internet than those without disabilities, according to research studies. In 2017, Pew Research Center came out with a report that revealed that 23% of people with disabilities said they "never" went online, compared to 8% of those without disabilities. Comcast also reported that 48 million people in the U.S. have physical or mobility disabilities that exclude them from being able to use a lot of the technology, television, and internet services out there today. Whether this is due to a lack of technology literacy offered in schools, or because people with disabilities are not able to afford connected devices, it's no doubt that this group is missing out on the educational, professional, medical advances, and social benefits that the internet and television have to offer.
The cable industry's goal has always been to ensure that access to internet and television is as widespread as possible. America's ISPs currently offer a range of services targeted at creating an inclusive environment for its customers, including closed captioning, readable voicemail, Braille, and large-print statements. Examples include Comcast’s X1 voice remote for television to help those with visual impairments or limited mobility search for shows, as well as a talking guide that speaks out loud what is on the screen. Charter also offers the Spectrum Guide, an audible TV guide for customers with visual disabilities, which similarly provides full text-to-speech support of every feature of their service. Another accessibility product is Cox's TV voice remote, Contour 2, which offers voice guidance, commands and navigation options, as well as audio narrated visual descriptions to help improve their customers' entertainment experience.
And just today, Comcast, together with Connect Direct (a subsidiary of Communication Service for the Deaf) announced the launch of ASL Now, a product that allows customers with hearing loss to connect with customer service agents in American Sign Language. This is the first time a customer service feature like this has been offered in the cable industry. The service will be offered through Xfinity and the company's Internet Essentials program.
Speaking of, Internet Essentials—the nation's largest internet adoption program for low-income households—earlier this year rolled out several other initiatives aimed at addressing the connectivity needs of low-income people with disabilities through access and digital literacy training programs. Eligibility was extended to disabled persons receiving benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid. The ISP issued a grant to the American Association for People with Disabilities to develop programs that facilitate digital skills development for this population at 10 affiliates across the country.
To help those with physical disabilities, Comcast also launched another feature this year to help viewers with spinal cord injuries or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Xfinity X1 eye control is a free service that allows customers to operate their TV with their eyes through a web-based remote that works with existing eye gaze hardware and software.
With these breakthroughs underway, the industry continues to experiment and find innovative ways to remove barriers and bridge the digital divide for Americans with disabilities, and to make technology, television, and the internet as accessible as possible to all.