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ADA @ 30: Accessible television & audio description

Jun 22, 2020

The late Margaret and Cody Pfanstiehl in their Silver Springs home

July 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so we decided to do a series of posts about accessibility as it relates to people with vision loss and anything new that we’ve learned about.  Today we’re going to highlight some of the accessibility features for television and local cable provider Spectrum, as well as reflecting briefly on the beginnings of audio description.

Credit for the "invention" of audio description in 1981 generally goes to the late Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl and her late husband Cody, although in independent efforts a man named Chet Avery proposed the concept in the late 60s, and Gregory Frazier worked on the idea on the 1970s. No matter who started it, the concept of audio description has changed thousands of lives for the better.

Today audio description is available on many television shows, movies, in live theater events, sporting events, and even live concerts.  But for many with vision loss, accessing television shows and movies on your home television or internet device has been difficult due to inaccessibility of remote controls and even billing and customer support.

From the early 2000s, Comcast has been committed to making its products, services, and experiences accessible to the widest possible audience, and opening new doors to independence for people with disabilities. In this video (2013), Tom Wlodkowski, VP of Accessibility talks about the new X1 platform, people who are blind or who have low vision will be able to navigate the on-screen set top box menus - including OnDemand and the linear program guide - through the nation's first talking cable TV interface. (NOTE: Xfinity and Comcast are different brands of the same company. Xfinity is the TV and internet service provider for consumers, while Comcast is the company that owns Xfinity.)

Xfinity has a great page that talks about the X1 taking guide, the voice remote, video description, and the accessibilty customer support center.  You can watch several videos on that page. 

Here's a video on how to use Voice Control and Voice Guidance on X1. 

.  Search YouTube for many more videos to help you with accessible televisions and many more adaptive devices.

Local service provider Spectrum is also getting into the accessibility arena.  Spectrum Guide Narration, available to customers with a Spectrum Receiver, recites on-screen text and provides audible guidance for easy access to TV menus, DVR, On Demand shows and movies, and more.

Additional features for visually-impaired customers include: Virtual Assistant (compatible with screen readers and screen magnifiers) , Call Us, Braille (call to request Braille or large-print billing statements, remote user guides or Terms & Conditions at (844) 762-1301), Pay Your Bill, Large Button Remotes, VIP Ringing and more.  

The Spectrum Mobile Access app offers audio description and closed captioning with on demand programming, offering access to approximately 300 On Demand movie titles from Lionsgate, Sony, Disney, IFC, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers with more titles coming in the future.

You can manage your Closed Captioning and Descriptive Video Services (DVS) settings through the Spectrum Guide. Visit for complete instructions.