Navigating TV programming will get a bit more manageable for the blind and visually impaired, as Comcast is starting to roll out its talking channel guide.
Comcast's voice-guided interface will be available to all Xfinity TV customers once the rollout is complete, which the telecommunications company expects will require only a few weeks time.
The talking TV guide will use a female voice to announce show titles, network names, program slots and a host of other features related to navigating set-top boxes.
Users won't have to buy additional equipment to use the new accessibility feature. The voice-guide interface can be set up in the programming menu or triggered by a double-tap of the remote control's "A" button.
Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast's vice president of audience, was brought on board in 2012 provide insight to the company on how it could better serve individuals who have disabilities.
"We think about accessibility from the design of a product all the way through production and this feature is the result of years of work by our team, including customer research, focus groups and industry partnerships," says Wlodkowski. "For people like me who are blind, this new interface opens up a whole new world of options for watching TV."
Comcast says it hopes to expand the talking TV guide's functionality into the X1's search interfaces. It also says it plans to offer different rates of speech for the system's narrator.
The talking TV guide was born inside the Comcast Accessibility Lab, the same division that helped the telecommunications company streamline its closed-captioning access to a single button. The lab also maintains a help and support library online, which offers users a single location to find out more about the company's accessibility services.
"We're just scratching the surface of what's possible in the accessibility space and we are thrilled to have Tom and his team leading the charge," says Comcast CEO and Chairman Brain Roberts.
Comcast says it plans to further its efforts in serving individual who have disabilities by launching an awareness initiative in conjunction with service groups and nonprofit organizations. The company says it will further explore voice guidance and other features that make entertainment more inclusive.
While Comcast has been initiating acts of goodwill to consumers, a Vermont senator has asked the telecommunications company to vow that it will keep it up and not sell "fast lane" Internet service. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Comcast to swear it won't sell prioritized Internet speeds to the highest bidder, even if the company's proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner is denied by regulators at the FCC.