Comcast Tests Talking TV Listings For Visually Impaired Customers

In an effort to appeal to visually impaired consumers — and possibly get ahead of looming regulatory requirements — Comcast has been testing a version of its channel guide that actually speaks the titles of shows and movies available for watching.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Comcast has been testing the product with 20 visually impaired customers in the area, and hopes to integrate the functionality in the X2 platform set to launch next year.

Right now, testers hear a woman’s voice reading out the listings, but Comcast expects that it will be able to give customers other voice options in the future.

The project is the result of Comcast’s Accessibility team, led by a Kabletown VP who also happens to be sight-impaired. The goal of the talking TV listings and other projects is to not only make Comcast products more accessible to existing Comcast customers, but to try to attract visually impaired consumers who had been shying away from subscribing.

“The only way I could navigate TV before,” the Comcast exec recalls, “was to go up and down the channels and listen until I found something that I liked.”

While working at WGBH in Boston, he developed a prototype of the talking TV interface, but it never made it to market.

Additionally, points out the Inquirer, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Accessibility Act of 2010 is pushing cable companies and electronics manufacturers to make their products more accessible. With mandatory talking interfaces probably only a few year off, Comcast is attempting to get ahead of the game.

“We will meet the requirements of the law, but we also believe there can be innovation,” says the Comcast VP.

A rep for the National Federation of the Blind tells the Inquirer that, while the organization has not tried the service, the idea of Comcast’s talking interface sounds “worthwhile.” She does, however, lament that generally “we see manufacturers embracing accessibility way too slowly.”