ATU428 – X1 Accessibility with Joel Moffatt

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

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Website: www.xfinity.com/accessibility

Information and Support: www.xfinity.com/accessibilitysupport or www.xfinity.com/accessibilitycenter

Phone: 1-855-270-0379

Twitter: @comcast or @xfinity or @comcastcares   

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Joel Moffatt:
Hey, this is Joel Moffatt, and I’m the principal product manager and customer experience lead with the Comcast accessibility team. This is your assistive technology update.(singing)

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your assistive technology update. A weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easter seals crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 428 of assistive technology update it’s scheduled to be released on August 9th, 2019. On today’s episode, we’re very excited to have Joel Moffitt on from Comcast to talk about some of the accessible features with the X1 operating system and some other cool stuff. Let’s go ahead and get on with the interview.

Josh Anderson:
We spend a lot of time on this show, talking about technology for learning or for work or for ADLs. But we do not, at least in my opinion, spend half enough time talking about technology for entertainment. Well, our guest today is Joel Moffitt, customer experience lead on Comcast accessibility team. He’s here to tell us about the great new features being offered on the Xfinity X1 operating system. Joel, welcome to the show.

Joel Moffatt:
Hey Josh. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be on your show.

Josh Anderson:
I’m really excited to talk about these new features. But before we talk about that, can you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background and your role with Comcast?

Joel Moffatt:
Oh, sure. Yeah, I’d love to. Again, I’m the principal product manager and customer experience lead for the accessibility team here at Comcast at our headquarters in Philadelphia.

Joel Moffatt:
We’re actually, our team sits in the new Comcast technology center. Now the tallest building in Philadelphia, which is pretty cool place to come to work. We’ve recently moved from our video product organization to our customer experience group, which has been a really cool move for us. If you know anything about customer experience really it’s about the journeys that customers go through end to end. It’s not customer support so much as it is just the general experience across the board. Just like accessibility and inclusivity, CX really wraps around everything. We’re very much an enabling function. That’s really a comfortable home for us. It’s allowed us to expand our scope. Really we’re doing a lot of the same things that we always did, but with much greater engagement across the business. We work across all of Comcast’s lines of business.

Joel Moffatt:
X1 is a hot topic that we’ll talk about today, of course. But looking at the mobile apps that pair with X1 and high speed data, voice calling Xfinity home for security and home control, all those things. We’re wrapping accessibility around all of those. It’s really an exciting time to be a part of the company. Especially with X1 being our cloud based set top box platform. Reenvisioning rethinking the way that people interact with their TV and get their entertainment. Especially with over the top services really taking off. We’re re-imagining the experience of how we gather on the TV and get our communications and our entertainment and even control our home, right from there on the couch without having to switch inputs or switch devices.

Josh Anderson:
It’s really come a long way from the old antenna days or not to date myself. But I remember when cable television was just, you plugged the cable into the back of the TV and pray that something good was on. That you’d actually hit it as you’re flipping through. It’s really come a long way.

Joel Moffatt:
Just the old rabbit ears there sure, sure. While it’s come a long way. We’ll dive back into this after I give you some more background on me personally and how I came to get to this position. But it’s come a long way. I think along the way, several years ago, things get more complicated before they get easier, especially when accessibility isn’t considered along the way. No, the remote control a great start.

Joel Moffatt:
But then as things move onto the screen, you’re looking at fewer buttons on the remote and more things happening on the screen. How do we make those accessible? We’ll talk a little bit about that, but you asked about my background. I’ve been here coming up on seven years now, working on Tom Makowski’s accessibility team. It’s been a great ride. We’ve got a great solid team form. Like I mentioned, we’re under the CX team here at Comcast headquarters. I mean, I love being able to work on all different things, all different platforms, all different products. Especially I love working directly with customers. One thing we often say is that disability, isn’t really the lack of ability. It’s the lack of a solution. It’s our products and our designs that can really disable people. If we choose to move forward with them in the right way and design inclusively, and creative with inclusive experiences, they’re really just going to be better products for everybody.

Joel Moffatt:
I really enjoy living that. A big part of that comes from my background in independent living. My job prior to Comcast, really for almost a decade leading up to Comcast, I worked at an independent living center. I’m a person with a disability, I’ve got low vision. I’ve got something called Usher syndrome where my vision is closing. That’s something interesting to live with, but it certainly gives me a certain context. A certain expertise and that’s something I’ve been able to bring to the job. It’s something I learned a lot about myself working for the Independent Living Center. Working alongside other people with disabilities and serving people with disabilities, with a message of, Hey, we’re, we’re going to give you the tools you need to succeed. Whether it’s get out of her nursing home or get a job, or relearn the computer skills you need before getting the jobs here. Not having to inflight figure out what tools work for you and what you need to ask, whatever company you’re working for to help provide for you so that you can actually successfully do your job.

Joel Moffatt:
We were teaching all that up front. I wasn’t sure how that would taper into working for a technology company like Comcast, but it’s really been great. Everything’s come full circle for me. I was actually a telecommunications major in college and worked briefly for Comcast shortly before I graduated before the bubble burst. I had some experience there and it came back full circle. Then I heard about Tom Makowski starting up the team here, I was anxious to come and interview and it just was really a great fit. What I’ve continued to focus on for the team is just communications and customer engagement. Going out to the conferences, whether it’s speaking at conferences. Whether it’s doing beta testing out of conferences and surveys and things like that. But just engaging with customers to find out what’s really needed from the services that we provide to make a great experience for everybody.

Joel Moffatt:
You can’t do that without talking to the people who are really going to engage with it and benefit from it. That’s a big part of what I do. I manage our inclusive experience, accessibility lab here in the new Comcast technology center. That affords us some great opportunities to bring customers in. To bring product managers in, to bring UX in. All folks who are working across the product life cycle who run any part of the business. Actually all of our new hires locally come through the technology center here at Comcast and check out the accessibility lab. We’ve got that upfront, making sure that everybody gets a taste of it right from day one. The other piece of what I do is I’m the liaison to our accessibility support center, our accessibility center of excellence. They’re dedicated to helping customers with disabilities every day. We’ll talk more about that as well.

Josh Anderson:
Execellent. Well, it sounds like just from like you said, a little bit of college experience with them. Your degree, and then your experience in the independent living center really has made you a perfect candidate for this job. Gives you that different viewpoint on everything.

Joel Moffatt:
When you’re coming at it from a technology angle, like we are. I mean, when you’re in the independent living center, you’re dealing much more with the political and the social. But when you come into the technology end of things it really is about solutions. How are we going to solve for these customers and how are we going to make sure that we’re considering different types of disabilities throughout the development process? Like I said just talking to customers. If I hear that a customer called up and was angry about video description or something else not working. The best thing that we can do is to hop on the phone and the information. It’s always really gratifying to talk to somebody who starts out angry and ends up realizing that they’re talking to the right person that can actually help take some of this stuff. That their opinion is important.

Joel Moffatt:
Likewise, for me, coming into this job, you begin to realize that your subject matter expertise as a person with a disability who has worked within the disability community is really valuable. Because I think we’re going to see companies focusing more and more on accessibility on inclusive design. Because I think younger generations are less and less inclined to stand for a company who doesn’t care about those things.

Josh Anderson:
Now I know Comcast has made a big push for more accessibility on all their platforms, but tell us about the new eye control feature.

Joel Moffatt:
That’s something I had the great fortune to be able to work directly on and be the product manager for what we call our accessible remote web application. With all the advances on the operating system itself and with remote controls, you can imagine where we’re headed with that when you look around the industry.

Joel Moffatt:
But what we wanted to solve for was how is somebody who in particular is using eye tracking technology to control their computer. We had calls from customers saying, look, I want to be able to control my setup box. How can I choose the channel? My carrier is doing all that for me right now. I’m having to have a conversation, my building a sentence in my speech generation software to say, “can you please put on the news?” The caregiver says,” well, what channel news do you want to watch?” Then there’s a back and forth. Whereas, what we wanted to reach was more of a situation of getting away from the caregiver aspect of it. More to the independence aspect of it. Where if you’re ever going to say,” Hey, why don’t you find something to watch? I’ll make us something to eat or whatever it is.” Along the way to figure that out we had an initial solution that was really based on a price or a software would have been difficult for our field operations folks to, to deploy in the home.

Joel Moffatt:
But what we landed on was really a fully functional web based remote that basically mirrors the functions that you see on your Xfinity X1 remote and puts those in the browser. Essentially what you can do is, if you’re navigating keyboard only, it’s going to work for you. You can press tab to step through the buttons. You can press enter, select the button you want to control your TV. You can use that eye tracking technology of course. I mean, for listeners who aren’t too familiar with eye tracking technology, Toby Dynabox is one of the main providers of that technology. It’s as simple as a little tongue depressor sized doodad that goes on your computer there and plugs in with USB and through infrared light. Embedded cameras is able to track where your eyes are looking.

Joel Moffatt:
From there, you can either dwell on the item on screen that you’d like to activate or set it in the blink mode as well. You’re really able to navigate the whole thing from there. Whether it’s keyword only or eye tracking or a drag and naturally speaking, sip and puff or other switch controls. Really any peripheral, any assistive technology that you need to navigate your television, you can do that through our accessible remote web app. Because we’re just putting the remote inside of the browser for you and then whatever technology you’re using to replace your mouse and keyboard and essentially your price now replace your remote control. You can go ahead and use that.

Josh Anderson:
Joel, I always have to ask how much does this cost?

Joel Moffatt:
It doesn’t cost anything. In fact, if you’re in an Xfinity X1 customer, you can go to xfin.tv/access. That’s X-F-I-N like xfinity.tv/access. That’ll take you right to this accessible remote web app. Then what is going to do is going to ask you to log in with your credentials, your Xfinity credentials. Once you’re logged in, it will give you a list of all the set top boxes in your home. The X1 set top boxes in your home, and you’ll just choose the one that you’d like to control. From there you’re off and running, you’ll see that it pairs up and you have all the buttons on your screen. What’s cool about it is that one advantage it has over your typical remote is that it actually has the ability to type in text commands. Many of us are familiar with the fact that Xfinity has a really great voice remote. You can say things like watch NBC or show me movies with explosions.

Joel Moffatt:
You can say, what song is playing in the background of your show. It’ll tell you what song is playing all kinds of things. We have lots of accessibility commands. You can say accessibility and gets you a full accessibility home screen that has settings tip, help and support. It’s got content collections, like all the described videos. All the shows to have that video description available, you can say voice guidance to turn on our talking guide. That’s basically our screen reader analog for the X1 operating system. You can say shows with description and get right to describe shows. Then you can turn on description just by saying description or captions by saying caption. Really it’s a one to one. There’s always an easy way to use the remote, to find what you want. There’s also an easy way to say a voice command and get what you want if that’s the method that you need.

Joel Moffatt:
Back to that web remote for folks who can’t use their voice, we’ve enabled this feature where you can actually type in that voice command. You can type in Netflix and you could fire up the X1 Netflix app. On our X1 operating system, we’ve now got for a while now, we’ve had Netflix embedded. You can search for Netflix content and play it right from X1 without having to change inputs to another and advice. We do the same for prime video and several other services as well. Just at the end of the day, making it really easy to use the tools you need to navigate your TV experience.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. It sounds very easy to set up. I love the way it works with what you’re already using. There’s no setting up a whole new device or anything like that. You just use everything in the way you’re used to just on a different app on a different platform.

Joel Moffatt:
Absolutely, we announced this. We’d had it in beta for a little bit now, I guess it really still isn’t in beta, but we announced it back on, on June 17th. Immediately it was picked up pretty far and wide by a lot of the tech publications and beyond. The very next day, somebody forward me a post that somebody posted in the assistive technology form. This person wrote something like,” I’m a bedbound quadriplegic, ventilator dependent. I had these work arounds to try to control my TV before, but this is really great because I can just type in the word Netflix and Netflix comes up. I’m not ever stuck on the channel after my caregiver goes home things like that.

Joel Moffatt:
I mean, that’s really cool. We worked with customers in those situations as we developed this thing. But to hear people discover it through the press, through the announcements of it. This is really cool to see the utility that people get out of it. Then how inclusive entertainment can really become.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. I know this is the newest feature and you maybe touched on these a little bit as we’re going through, but what are some of the other accessibility features available through the Xfinity accessibility menu?

Joel Moffatt:
Sure, I’d love to delve into that a little bit for you. Ease of use is really a big thing for us, especially with X1. Because really you gather in the living room, you expect TV to just work. You can have different devices and things if you want to use different services.

Joel Moffatt:
But with X1 like I mentioned, with Netflix and prime video. All these things that are just becoming baked into the operating system, no extra charge. Except of course, you’ve got to subscribe to Netflix. But if you’ve got X1 you’ve got accessibility. The number one takeaway I would have for folks is just, if you grab your remote and you press the B key. Or if you do that through the web remote app as well. Or you just say the voice command accessibility, you’re going to find everything you need. The B key is going to take you right to the settings screen. Just a list of all the things closed captions, closed captioning options to change the look and the colors and things like that. To turn on voice guidance, you can do that from there. That’s our talking guide so that as you step your way through the menus, it’ll read out what’s in focus on the screen. Read out the [inaudible 00:17:17] all that good stuff.

Joel Moffatt:
That’s basically our screen reader. You can go in and said things like guide readability to change the font size and the TV guide menu. I’m just making things really easy to get to. A couple of years ago, it was a lot of steps to describe, Hey, you have to go into this menu and an arrow down to this menu and press. You got to remember where this is, but now when you’ve got a menu system that talks to you and you’ve got a remote that you can speak into and you can skip a lot of those button presses. Like I said, say accessibility, and you’ve got a full menu, you’ve got all the settings are there. There’s tips on how to use all those settings. There’s the help and support number for accessibility support center that I mentioned.

Joel Moffatt:
I’ll circle back to that as well to make sure everybody has that information. Those content collections that I mentioned, like all of the described programs. Whether it’s something that’s offered on Xfinity, something that’s offered through Netflix. We’re waiting on a secondary audio tracks from Amazon for prime video as well. You’ll see that collection expanding. We’ve also been working with a lot of studios and the networks to get more content on demand. The communications and video accessibility act mandates that broadcasters have to provide a certain number of hours of described content per quarter. But that doesn’t say anything about on demand. We’re pushing ahead to make sure that our on demand collection keeps on growing. We’ve also pushed into different areas of describe content. Again, that secondary audio, that narrative description for people who are blind.

Joel Moffatt:
A few years ago, we did the live Broadway musical that NBC tends to broadcast coming into the holidays every couple of years. That was the Wiz live. That was the first live described entertainment. From there the next year was hairspray live and the success of those two helped us to springboard into the Olympics. You may recall that the Olympics has some video description available on the Rio games. It was all of the primetime live content. The stuff that Bob Costas emceeing seeing there followed by the PyeongChang Olympics and the PyeongChang Paralympics as well. Stay tuned for new developments and of content that we’ll push into to kind of pioneer with video description there. Like I said, ease of use, B Key, just say accessibility, and you can find everything and those voice commands.

Joel Moffatt:
Just say captions, just say description, say bind described shows. It’s all there for you and then easy to find.

Josh Anderson:
You touched on it there, but just to make sure we get that in there. If someone does need special assistance or has a disability, and maybe can’t find those or just wants to talk to somebody to help them through those. What is the special number that they can call.

Joel Moffatt:
You can reach our accessibility support center for customers with disabilities at (855) 270-0379. You can also chat or email. There’s other ways to contact them as well. If you go xfinity.com/accessibilitycenter, that’ll take you right to the article that has all the contact information. We’ll tell you a little bit more about what that center does. I can tell you that if they do have a tier two support. They’ve got some agents that are specialized in things like eye tracking and Xfinity home for home security and control.

Joel Moffatt:
That’s another thing I should probably touch on. Now, we’ve got voice commands in X1 for different functions around the home. Turn off the lights, lock the front door, making it really easy to not have to leave your couch. Imagine that somebody who’s an amputee doesn’t want to have to get up and put on prosthetics to go to the door and see who’s there. You can say, “show me my cameras.” Or you can say, “lock the front door.” To make it really easy, to be able to control those things as well. That’s exciting. Then also with our Xfinity home hub, the touch screen that allows you to control everything in your home. The system that actually now features voice guidance as well as you move your finger across the screen. It’ll announce it’s basically talk back.

Joel Moffatt:
You’re able to move your finger across the screen, then double tap for what you want to activate. You can even set a shortcut where if you triple tap the home button on that touch screen hub, you’ll turn voice guidance on or off. Again, ease of use and trying to cover all of our platforms and reasonable expectation of accessibility across everything.

Josh Anderson:
Then Joel, I don’t want to get any industry secrets out of here, but are there any accessibility features that you guys are working on for the future? Or again, if you can’t tell me any of the secrets, what’s something you’d love to see in the future?

Joel Moffatt:
Yeah I mean, sure. There’s a lot I’d like to see in the future. There’s of course things that we’re always working on. Things that I probably can’t or shouldn’t talk about just yet. You heard me talk about a lot of things for blind and low vision customers. We’re also looking at things for our hard of hearing customers as well.

Joel Moffatt:
One thing you’ll be hearing about soon is actually available now is in our newer X1 set top boxes. Now you have Bluetooth capability on onboard for Bluetooth audio. For instance, part of the Usher syndrome that I have in addition to losing my vision, got a little bit of hearing loss as well. I wear hearing AIDS. What I like to do is I use the aftershocks bone conduction headphones. That allows me to not have to take my hearing AIDS out to use the headphones. I mean, every hearing aid I’ve ever lost has been because I was taking it out to put in some headphones. I’m really happy to have the bone conduction headphones. There’s no wire, none of that. I’m able to pair that right up with my X1 set top box. That way, if my wife wants to mute the TV, I also have my volume through my headphones. Or if the kids are asleep we can put on a Bluetooth speaker and, have it between us in the bed and watch TV in the bedroom without waking them up in the room next to us.

Joel Moffatt:
That’s been really cool to see that rollout. For hearing aid users who use a Bluetooth low energy hearing AIDS, most of those actually have a component you can buy. It’s basically a handheld remote for the hearing AIDS. That will pair up to the set top box and it can pass the audio directly to your hearing AIDS if that’s the way you’d like to do it. Some other stuff we’re working on you’ll see some advancements to the testable remote web app that we talked about. Different levels of support there. Nothing to go into detail about, but we’re always actively developing in that space. What else do we have? I should probably call out our mobile apps. Xfinity stream is really great. It basically puts X1 in your pocket on your iOS or Android device. You can download DVR programs that have completed. Your recorded programs that are completed. You can download those if you know you’re going to be in a spot without any wifi. I recommended if you’re going to end up on a desert Island, it’s great.

Joel Moffatt:
Also, works really well with all the great things that Apple has done to bake into their operating system. Likewise with Android. Things like voiceover on top back work really well. I keep a close eye on social media, particularly Twitter and looking for tweets that people have asked for new features or complimented things we already have. I prefer the constructive feedback over the positive feedback actually because that pushes us ahead in the technology space. But I’ve seen a couple of customers lately say, I’m blind. And if nobody else is here with me watching the TV, I’m not going to turn the TV on. I’m just going to use the Xfinity stream app. Now that I have those robust set of support for accessibility features there. That’s been really great to hear as well.

Josh Anderson:
If our listeners want to find out more about Comcast accessibility, the X1 operating system and all those things. What’s the best way for them to do that?

Joel Moffatt:
Yeah, definitely check out xfinity.com/accessibility. This is going to be updated pretty soon actually. If you’re looking for help and support in particular, you can find it from that page, but you can get directly there at xfinity.com/accessibility support. Again, along the lines of feedback, one of the quickest ways to get in touch with us. If you go ahead and tweet something that mentions the @Comcast or the @Xfinity handle, and you mentioned something about accessibility or video description or captions or whatever it is. We’re likely going to see it and we’ll usually respond, but we’ll take that information back. When you’re talking to our team, you’re not too far removed from the folks who are actually doing the development work. We always appreciate feedback.

Josh Anderson:
We’ll make sure to put all that contact information in our show notes. Joel, thank you so much for coming on the show and we can’t wait to have you back on sometime to talk about the new things as they continue to come out.

Joel Moffatt:
Thanks a lot, Josh. This has been great. Love the show. Keep up the great work and I hope to talk to you soon.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely. Thanks again.

Joel Moffatt:
All right, take care.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on assistive technology update? If you do call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @indata project or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.Eastersealstech.com. Assistive technology update is a proud member of the accessibility channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more head over to accessibility.channel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that, of this host or the INDATA project. This has been your assistive technology update on Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easter seals crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.