Obtaining Accessible Cable Television: A Frustrating Experience

Hello there and welcome to our weekly = feature=20 titled top article of the week.
Especially chosen for you, these = articles will=20 help you to keep up to date with current trends plus a lot more.
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.
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.
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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