Obtaining Accessible Cable Television: A Frustrating Experience

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Obtaining Accessible Cable Television: =
A=20
Frustrating Experience
At the AccessWorld Tech Summit in =
March 2017,=20
part of the  American Foundation for the Blind’s annual Leadership=20
Conference , I was so excited while listening to a presentation from the =
Federal=20
Communications Commission  (FCC) about accessible devices including =
cable=20
boxes. I figured I could call my cable company when  I got home and =
get an=20
accessible cable box. I was wrong.
FCC Regulations Summary for Accessible =
Cable=20
Boxes
The FCC conference presenters were =
Suzy Rosen=20
Singleton, Chief, and Will Schell, Attorney-Advisor,  Disability =
Rights=20
Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. They focused on access =
to=20
video  description.
Mr. Shel told the audience that any =
device that=20
plays video and is made after December 2016 must be  accessible to =
people=20
who are blind or visually impaired. Accessibility includes the ability =
to=20
use  menus, controls, and settings. In addition, the video =
description=20
setting must be easily accessible  with a specific key or =
button.
Accessible set-top boxes must be =
available on=20
request from the TV provider, at no cost. The largest  cable =
companies are=20
required to have the accessible boxes available now.
Spectrum
In 2016, Charter Communications =
acquired Time=20
Warner Cable, which was my cable company before the  merger. So, my =
current=20
cable provider is Spectrum, which is owned by Charter =
Communications. =20
According to a May 2016 CNN report, Charter was the number three =
provider in the=20
US and Time Warner  was number two, with Comcast being number one. =
Charter=20
also purchased Bright House, a smaller cable  company. CNN =
projected that=20
Charter Communications cable service will be in over 18 million =
homes  in=20
the US. Therefore, after the merger, Charter Communications became a =
major=20
player in the cable  industry. I live in New York City, which is a =
major=20
market.
First Contact: Not Encouraging
When I got home from the conference in =
March, I=20
called Spectrum to ask about accessible cable  boxes. I was on the =
phone=20
that night for well over an hour as I got transferred from person =
to =20
person. Most of the people I spoke with had no idea what I was talking =
about.=20
Others thought I  meant closed captioning, not text-to-speech =
output on the=20
cable device. I finally reached someone  who said I already had an=20
accessible cable box. When I explained that there wasn’t any =20
text-to-speech, she said Spectrum does not have a voice-activated =
remote.
After a very long time, I spoke to =
someone who=20
said she knew what to do. She said Spectrum needed  to send me the=20
necessary computer codes. I asked if the codes worked with the Mac and =
she said=20
they  did. Apparently, cable box accessibility was available =
through my=20
computer. Wrong.
She tried to send the codes but that =
did not=20
work. She said I needed a different modem. An  appointment was =
scheduled=20
for a technician to fix the problem. I was still very hopeful.
Spectrum’s First Solution: a =
Laptop
A technician and supervisor came to my =
house=20
twice. Both were extremely nice and tried very hard.  We spent many =
hours=20
on this problem. The end result was that the Mac could not use the=20
Spectrum  codes. Furthermore, I could not use my cable box and my =
old modem=20
was fine. Instead, Spectrum gave  me a large Windows laptop with =
the=20
Spectrum app and NVDA screen reader installed. The only way I  had =
access=20
to the Spectrum guide and descriptive video was through the =
laptop.
This was unacceptable. I could not =
watch TV with=20
my family and still have complete accessibility.  Furthermore, I =
ended up=20
showing the technician and supervisor the best way to teach someone how =
to =20
use the Spectrum app with NVDA.
Blaming Time Warner for Spectrum’s =
Problems with=20
Accessibility
I discovered Spectrum’s accessibility =
website on=20
my own and found that there was an easy way to  turn on =
accessibility=20
features, but I could not get them to work. I called the support number =
on =20
the website, asked to talk to a supervisor, and finally got through =
after being=20
on hold for a very  long time. He asked where I lived. He explained =
that=20
Time Warner did not install the necessary  equipment for =
accessibility=20
prior to the merger with Charter Communications. Therefore, it was =
Time =20
Warner’s fault and not Spectrum’s that I did not have an accessible =
cable=20
box.
Next Move: Involving the FCC
It was time for me to take further =
action. I=20
filed a complaint with the FCC indicating that  Spectrum did not =
provide an=20
accessible cable box. The FCC served my complaint on March 31, 2017. =
On =20
April 18, I received a phone call from Charter Communications. They =
understood=20
my frustration and  assured me that Charter was working to improve=20
accessibility for the visually impaired and training  for =
technicians and=20
customer support staff. In another phone call, they asked if I would =
like to=20
be  part of their Roku trial. The Roku works with the Spectrum app, =
not the=20
cable box. The Roku was to  be a temporary alternative to the =
laptop while=20
they worked on improving accessibility on the cable  box. I agreed =
to=20
participate. Several days later, I received a copy of a letter from=20
Charter  Communications to the FCC. The letter indicated that I =
would be=20
taking part in their Roku trial.
Spectrum’s Next Solution: The =
Roku
On June 2, a technician came to =
install my Roku.=20
After the installation was complete, I had two  questions for him. =
The=20
first was: in the Spectrum app, can you go directly to a specific =
channel =20
with the Roku? The second was: how do you turn on audio description when =
in the=20
Spectrum app? The  technician had never heard of audio description =
and kept=20
thinking I was talking about the cable  guide.
The technician did not know the =
answers to my=20
questions and he had to make several calls. No, you  can’t jump to =
a=20
specific channel with the Spectrum app and Roku. The choices are to move =
with=20
the  arrow keys channel by channel until you find the one you want. =
Another=20
option is to keep scrolling  for a few seconds, see where you are =
in the=20
channel list, and then scroll until you get to the  channel you =
want.
The Spectrum technician and the people =
he called=20
for assistance did not know that although I could  not search for a =

specific channel (since the Roku does not have a number pad), I could =
put=20
my  favorite channels in a group, making them easier to =
locate.

I was told that I could not access =
audio=20
description with the Roku. This was incorrect. The  technician said =
that I=20
would be hearing from someone at Spectrum in about a week to discuss =
my =20
experience.
The Right Answers
I did not hear from Charter for five =
weeks. I=20
received an email from Charter’s Manager of  Accessibility at that =
time,=20
asking if I would complete a survey about my Roku experience. I =
agreed  and=20
added that I want the ability to go directly to a specific channel and I =
want=20
audio description.
He sent me a document showing how to =
access=20
audio description through the Roku. The document also  contained=20
information about the Roku’s layout, using the on-screen program guide, =
creating=20
favorite  channels, features available in the Spectrum app, and =
more. If=20
the technician had this document  when the Roku was installed, he =
would=20
have had the correct answers to my questions and I would have  had =
less=20
aggravation.
Spending Time with the Roku
Spectrum provided a Roku Premier+ =
streaming=20
media player. It is similar to the Apple TV. An HDMI  port on my =
television=20
was used to connect the small Roku box. The box is approximately 5 =
inches =20
long by 5 inches wide by 1 inch high. The Roku remote has a Back button =
on the=20
top left and a Home  button on the top right. Underneath these =
buttons is a=20
center button surrounded by four buttons.  The four buttons are =
used to=20
navigate up, down, left, and right. The center button is for making =
a =20
selection.
Below those buttons are an Instant =
Replay button=20
on the left and a Star button on the right. The  Instant Replay =
button is=20
for rewinding some on-demand content. The Star button is for =
accessing =20
options. Below the Instant Replay and Star buttons are Rewind, Play, and =
Forward=20
buttons. There are  more buttons, but Spectrum recommends not using =

them.

The Roku’s speech output is =
adjustable, but it=20
is nowhere near as good as speech on the Apple TV.  You cannot =
rearrange=20
apps on the home screen as with the Apple TV. I am happy to say that it =
is =20
relatively easy to turn on audio description. Even though Favorite =
channels can=20
be selected, it is  not possible to move directly to a specific=20
channel.
Since I share my TV with sighted =
people, when I=20
start to use the Roku I need to switch TV input  from the cable box =
to=20
Roku.
Although I can use the Roku remote to =
get to the=20
audio guide and get to my favorite channels,  several button =
presses are=20
required. Since my Roku remote does not have a number pad, I =
cannot =20
quickly jump to a channel.
My Roku has locked up several times. =
Either it=20
stopped talking or it didn’t speak or show anything  on the screen. =
Sighted=20
assistance could not get it to work. We needed to turn off the cable box =

or  the TV to fix the problem.

Conclusion
Although the Roku is a work-around for =
Spectrum,=20
there is a lot of room for improvement. It is  unacceptable that =
Spectrum=20
is the second largest cable company in the country yet they are =
unable  to=20
provide accessibility through their cable boxes for (former) Time Warner =
Cable=20
subscribers.  According to Spectrum, Time Warner didn’t do their =
part in=20
making the necessary equipment available  for users, but Spectrum =
knew this=20
merger was coming in advance; it didn’t happen overnight.  Customer =
support=20
and technicians need considerable training to learn about the=20
accessibility  features and how to use and install them. Meanwhile, =
Comcast=20
and Verizon FIOS have accessible cable  boxes where no extra =
equipment is=20
required.
Related Recommendation: iOS TV Guide =
App
TV Guide has a  free app for =
iOS  that=20
has good accessibility and is useful if you don’t have easy access to =
the guide=20
on your cable  box. The app works with iOS 8 and above and there is =
a=20
watchOS app as well.
The first time you use the app it is =
necessary=20
to enter information including your name, provider,  and =
email.
There are five tabs at the bottom of =
the screen:=20
Listings, Watch List, Discover, Videos, and More.  At the top of =
the screen=20
is a Search Box where you can search by channel or program.
Selecting Channels
There is a complete list of which =
channels you=20
receive through your provider. There are several  options including =
All=20
Channels or Only Favorite channels. Select a favorite channel by =
double =20
tapping on the channel number in the channel list. Near the top of the =
next=20
screen, there will be a  button to add the channel to your =
Favorites=20
list.
When going through the listings, the =
channel=20
name will be followed by which program is currently  on. Double =
tapping on=20
a program will load a new page with program details, an option to add =
the =20
program to your watch list, and an option to set an alert for that =
program. When=20
done, activate the  Back button in the upper left corner.
The Discover tab has program =
recommendations.=20
The Videos tab has video recommendations. The More  tab has =
information=20
including your watch list, listings, and settings.
I frequently use this app and find it =
to be a=20
quick way to find out what is on.
 
Author:  Janet Ingber
 
 
 
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