Comcast Becomes the First in the Cable Industry to Offer Customer Service in American Sign Language

This blog post was sponsored by Comcast. All opinions are my own.

Photo credit: Comcast

Occasionally I get invited to cover an event that truly pulls at my heartstrings. It is these very events that make me so proud and honored to be able to share my experience with my readers. It is both an honor and joy to witness these events up close and live, as I get to not only see, but feel all the emotions firsthand. Last Tuesday was one of these special opportunities and there was not a dry eye in the house.

For a little background, my sister Christine is deaf. She became deaf at 9 months of age after contracting spinal meningitis. I have grown up watching my sister learn to communicate in a dominantly hearing world. Having witnessed firsthand, communicating independently has not been easy. She was initially taught to lip read and speak but eventually as she moved on to high school and college,
American Sign Language became her primary language among her peers and the deaf community. She grew up at a time when the technology we have today was minimal. There were no smart phones or Facetime. Computers were sparse and not as portable as they are today. She relied on good old paper and pencil, interpreters and the use of her TTY to communicate with much of the world. Yet even with
all the technology we have today, she still admits that communicating independently can frequently be a challenge. She often relies on my Mom to make appointments on her behalf and communicate for her when she has an issue with a bill or other similar cause. When she does communicate on her own is it usually via text or email and is not very personal. It has been disheartening to not have been able to help
make this easier for her as she has navigated through life.

Last week I was invited to visit the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Germantown to attend a Digital Inclusion Rally hosted by Comcast. The room was filled with students and educators from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf as well as executives from Comcast, Connect Direct, Dell, the media, local government officials including Mayor Jim Kenney and longtime supporters of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. The rally celebrated Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful Internet adoption program for low-income households as well as people with disabilities. During the program, Comcast announced its partnership with Connect Direct, a subsidiary of Communication Services for the Deaf with a goal of helping to close the digital divide. The program’s goal is to ensure that members of the deaf community and others with disabilities can get connected to the internet at home without barriers with a commitment to make products, services and experiences accessible to the widest possible audience.

The partnership preceded yet another major announcement which brought the room to its feet. In addition to its partnership with Direct Connect and its commitment to expanding its Internet Essentials program, Comcast was proud to announce that they now are offering customer service in American Sign Language for its customers. Comcast is the first in the cable industry to break down this barrier for the
deaf and hard of hearing community, while opening a new, personal and face to face experience for those who communicate in ASL. Breaking down barriers such as this is such a victory for the deaf and hard of hearing community and yet another step forward to much needed and well-deserved independence and personal interaction when communicating with companies such as Comcast.

Photo credit: Comcast

Comcast also announced that it created an internetessentials.com/accessibility landing page, with direct links to the new ASL Now chat function, the ability to order collateral materials in Braille and large print, and an accessibility-specific FAQ. The learning center on the Internet Essentials website also now includes nearly 50 videos with closed captioning and includes topics such as online safety and security,
basic internet usage, and how to get various things done online. The website is also operable with assistive technologies such as screen writer software for the blind and visually impaired. Comcast intends to continue to add even more digital literacy training content to the learning portal that will be specifically designed for people with disabilities. Fingers crossed that more companies begin to follow suit, opening even more doors for better, quality communication for the deaf and disabled population.

The rally ended with a very special finale for the wonderful students of Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Not only did they recognize the achievements, dreams and goals of several of the students in the audience, but they made an announcement that did not leave a dry eye in the room. Comcast surprised 90 students in attendance with free iPads and six months of complimentary Internet service at home through the Internet Essential Program. Additionally, in partnership with Dell Technologies, the company also declared that it will donate new computer equipment to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to help support continued learning of digital vital skills at school.

The reactions of the students and educators was priceless and brought overwhelming emotion to everyone in attendance. The excitement and appreciation felt by the students was instantly contagious.  My heart was bursting watching their joy, as I know first hand just how special and important these tools will be for each and every one of them as they continue to grow, learn and become independent adults.

Photo credit: Comcast

To give an example of just how influential and successful the Internet Essentials program has been, since 2011 over 8 million low income Americans have been connected to the Internet at home through the Internet Essentials program. Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the lack of a computer; and cost of internet service. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners. For more information, or to apply for the program, visit www.internetessentials.com. The accessible website can be read in seven different languages and there is also a dedicated phone number 1-855-846-8376. Information about the new ASL website can be found at www.internetessentials.com/accessibility. Spanish-only speakers can call 1-855-765-6995.

Big kudos to Comcast and its partners for pioneering these new resources to not only allow for better communication for its customers, but for also working to ensure that everyone, including students, parents, veterans, disabled persons and all qualified low-income households have an equal opportunity to utilize the tools and resources available through Comcast so that they can be ready for anything.

 

 

 



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