Our Values In Action
Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Back in 2011, a web developer in Los Angeles penned a blog post for his fellow engineers, questioning why it was so hard to figure out how to make the internet more accessible for people with disabilities.
“I would argue that it’s more important to make a [web]site accessible than pretty … an accessible internet literally makes a world of difference,” Joe Devon wrote at the time. “Although I’m a back-end programmer, I’m still ashamed at how little I know. How about you?”
He challenged his peers to create a Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) for the tech industry, and by the following May, the very first GAAD had been born. These now-annual events aim to get people talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion for people with all types of abilities and disabilities.
In 2018, Comcast NBCUniversal marked GAAD not just with a single day, but also with a full week of activities. This first GAAD Week was designed to showcase all the work we do around disability inclusion both inside and outside of our company. We wanted to engage and inspire our own workforce by showing how we innovate with accessibility top of mind. And we wanted to highlight the many ways we meet our customers where they are, making products more compatible with their needs.
“Accessibility starts with the recognition that disability is not the lack of an ability,” says Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast Cable’s Vice President of Accessibility. “It’s the lack of a solution. We define accessibility as the measure of how effectively people with disabilities can interact with our services.”
GAAD Week included a company-wide, town-hall-style webcast that introduced some of our latest accessible products, as well as the employees behind them, and an inspirational keynote speech from Paralympic medalist Danelle Umstead. Other events included an assistive technology fair, where employees could experience some of the tools used by people with disabilities to interact with Comcast applications, and an accessibility science fair, where employees showcased innovations they developed as part of Comcast Lab Week. Some of these innovations may ultimately be developed into product features.
Comcast Cable software architect Mike Fine was looking for a new project when his boss came to him with a query. Could he develop a program that would let customers change the television channel without the use of their hands or their voices? An assistive technology like that would be welcomed by customers with a neurodegenerative disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Fine figured out how to leverage existing eye-tracking technology to control a web-based version of the X1 remote. His solution, which he developed in collaboration with the Comcast Accessibility Team and several customers with ALS, works with other assistive technologies, including a “sip and puff” tool that sends signals by inhaling and exhaling into a straw or tube. The Accessible Web Remote also allows customers to type voice commands or questions such as “show me action/adventure movies” or “what song is playing?”
“Most of us take for granted how many times a day we click a button to enable technology,” says Fine, who was named a 2018 Comcast Accessibility Champion and recognized with a company Innovation Award for his work. “But not everyone has the ability to do that. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that I could make someone’s life better through software development.”
Pritesh Patel and Bryan Kissinger gained similar fulfillment by developing Voice Guidance, a text-to-speech feature they helped bring to Xfinity Home. Now, users can speak into the Xfinity Home Touchscreen Controller to control the home system’s security cameras, alarm systems, and even temperature and lighting.
“Some people may think of our security product as a luxury or a nice-to-have. But for someone with limited mobility, having access to a system that will unlock the front door for you when the doorbell rings or adjust the temperature on the thermostat is really empowering,” says Patel.
As a product manager, Kissinger’s job begins and ends with a satisfied customer. “Everything we do is about our customers,” he says. “It’s even more meaningful when we can do things that we know will have a positive impact on improving someone’s day-to-day life. It’s why we come to work every day.”
We partnered with U.S. Paralympian skier Danelle Umstead and other athletes to help tell their inspiring stories.