Episodes
Petr Kucheryavy smiling to the camera. He's wearing a light colored shirt and sunglasses.
13 Letters, Jun 17, 2021, When Everybody's Watching

When Everybody's Watching

Access to television is in many ways still evolving, and as one of the leading TV, phone and internet providers in the United States, Spectrum is thinking beyond closed captions and large-button remotes to innovate across different channels. Their large accessibility team, headed by designers and incorporating people with disabilities to ensure that all products are optimized for all customers, is one of a kind in the industry. And with the recent release of apps such as Spectrum Access and Spectrum News, they've taken huge steps forward in inclusion for people with many different abilities and proficiencies. We sat down with Senior Outreach Manager for Accessibility, Petr Kucheryavy, to learn more about how got into accessibility and what Spectrum is doing different.

Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

Hello, and welcome to 13 Letters: The Accessibility Podcast hosted by me, Will from Be My Eyes and Cordelia McGee-Tubb from Salesforce. A big thank you to Diamond for continuing to sponsor transcripts. Find out more about the inclusive digital agency at diamond.la.

Will Butler:

Our guest today works in accessible media, but more on the entertainment industry side of things. Petr is joining us from Spectrum, which is one of the biggest and fastest growing cable, internet, and TV providers in the country. And they're thinking about innovating in things like audio description, foreign language support and other things like that. They have a very cool new app. And we talked about a whole bunch of really interesting stuff at the intersection of technology and the entertainment industry.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

This interview is amazing. I had a really big fan girl moment about an app during this interview, and I really don't usually get that ecstatic about apps, but I couldn't help myself.

Will Butler:

Our second Ukrainian guest today on the 13 Letters Podcast. For all we know, it maybe our third or fourth, but our second self-identifying Ukrainian guest.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yes. If you are Ukrainian and want to be our third self-identifying Ukrainian guest, drop us a line at 13letters@bemyeyes.com.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Honestly, super cool to hear about the work that's going on in the entertainment industry. I mean, Spectrum and some of these cable companies, they kind of part tech and part entertainment, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely.

Will Butler:

So Spectrum really has to think about it's tech tools and its products just as much as thinking about things like audio description and captioning and media accessibility, so it's really cool to hear about.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

And it's such an interesting mix of both digital and physical accessibility. Like on this episode, I won't spoil too much of it, but we get to talk about an accessibility overlay in the physical world that is actually fantastic.

Will Butler:

Oh, right. For the remote control, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, absolutely.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Did I spoil it? The good overlay. We call it the good kind of overlay.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

The good overlay. But super fascinating interview. Love talking with Petr about making entertainment accessible for everyone, especially older adults as well.

Will Butler:

Well, pardon me if I butcher the name Petr, but we're going to hop over now to our interview with Spectrums Petr Kucheryavy. The third one was probably good.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That sounded pretty good.

Will Butler:

Petr Kucheryavy, welcome to 13 Letters and we're so pleased to have you here with us today.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Thank you for having me on. I'm excited to have this chat.

Will Butler:

What is your official title at Spectrum/Charter? Tell me how you identify when you're bumping into people at conferences and whatnot.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Yes. I'm the senior manager of our outreach here. So I lead the outreach efforts. My role is really to connect our team and the work that we do with the community of people that we serve or the community of potential customers or users of our products. So I get to create that bridge between the outside of Spectrum world to the inside of Spectrum's accessibility team world.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Awesome.

Will Butler:

Spectrum is now one of the largest internet and TV providers in the country, as I understand it. And I just remember being at M-Enabling a couple of years back and just remarking on what a presence Spectrum had and all these really, really nice people scattered throughout the whole conference, seemed all really passionate about what they do. And I guess it's your job to reflect that on stages and at events and whatnot. Is that accurate?

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's correct. I get to go to all these awesome conferences and meet some really great people, both in the accessibility spaces professionally and just ordinary people at blindness oriented conferences and other disability focused conferences and such. So it's really awesome because I get to meet everybody from the nerds that are interested in the technical aspects of what we do and how we do it, all the way down to just the ordinary end users that are curious about what it is that they can take advantage of as a Spectrum customer.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Well, we've got a bunch of nerds and ordinary people listening in to the podcast so I've-

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's probably not the best language to identify people by but it's the best I could do.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

No, I think us nerds wear that badge with pride, so I love it.

Will Butler:

We call the listeners the letterheads. That's our affectionate term for them. We used to call them nerds, now we just call them letterheads.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Proprietary name. I love it.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

We're going to make t-shirts. But enough about our podcasts. Let's talk a little bit more about you, Petr. I'd love to just hear a little bit about your life story. Where did you grow up?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Sure. I'll try to give you the brief version. I was born in Ukraine, in a western town called Chernivtsi. And it's just a straight shot south, really, of Chernobyl, which people are mostly familiar with; the great nuclear power plant explosion that happened in 1986. And so I was born there just shortly prior to the power plant explosion, and our family migrated to the US in the early nineties, in 1991. I was fairly young and I did end up moving back to Ukraine for a few years on and off in my teenage years, but I spend the majority of my life here in the states now.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And I started losing my sight in the nineties shortly after we moved to the states and it was really rapid. It was a really rapid decline in my vision. And I went from, I guess, fully sighted to legally blind in a matter of probably a year or two. We did a lot of investigation and a lot of it had circled back and pointed a finger back at the overwhelming radioactive dust exposure that we had in Ukraine and the potential that that could alter one's gene expressions or create a spontaneous mutation and cause something like vision loss. So in any event, I grew up from that point on losing my vision ever so more gradually and that really hindered my education. I was about 15 years old when I tried dropping myself out of high school and doing construction jobs. And I really pull that off for about five years before I get desperate for schooling, and discovered the world of assistive technology at that point.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And it was in my early twenties when I really found a training center down in Atlanta that taught me how to use JAWS and things like that, and put me back on track. And I was back in the school system and got a college degree and even ended up teaching at that college for a little while. And so my life completely changed once I found access to assistive technology.

Will Butler:

Wow, that's incredible.

Petr Kucheryavy:

I really had an interesting career journey from there where I went from the healthcare field to assistive technology or went into the blindness rehabilitation space for a while and also here at Spectrum with our accessibility team. But I guess my internal passion and experiences always lead me back to wanting to make the world a better place for those who are going through the same experiences that I did.

Will Butler:

Do you have any memory of the time before the explosion?

Petr Kucheryavy:

I don't. I was just a toddler, so I don't have that memory. I have some select memories prior to our move to the states. And then obviously I spent a lot of time back there in the early two thousands; '99 through about 2005. So I have quite a few memories of Ukraine after the Soviet Union fell apart. But just a few select ones from my childhood.

Will Butler:

Wow, fascinating. And so by the time you were a teenager, you were legally blind, but passing as sighted for the most part?

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right. Probably a story not unfamiliar to a lot of folks that were losing their sight early in life. But I really wanted to not stand out as a person with a disability. And certainly coming from a Soviet culture, it really wasn't the kind of identity that one wanted to take on as being a person with a disability. To this day, I still can't figure out what the Slavic Russian term would be that would be equivalent to a person with disability because I grew up just hearing the word invalid. And I didn't want to be referred to as an invalid, so I played it off and I developed a number of techniques that were helpful in getting by as a person who's visually impaired in a sighted world. If you trip, it was more intentional or as a jokes. So I became a big jokester as a young guy.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Sounds familiar. Cordelia, sometime we have to do an episode about how different cultures approach inclusion or lack thereof.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. Yeah. So on our last season of our podcast, we interviewed Victor Tsaran and he just casually mentioned that he built the first Ukrainian screen reader and we were like, what? Whoa. Which was just a really weird little fun fact and also made me wonder what is assistive technology like in Ukraine. And I don't really have a question to go from there, but just the thought of, I'd love to hear more about assistive technology in other cultures as well.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Yeah, absolutely. I've done a couple of talks, more on a personal level, they're not product oriented, about differences between... and it's something that I studied in college. I have an anthropology degree, and my primary focus was studying the differences between Eastern and Western Hemispheres and how they approach mostly aging and the approach of dying. But I learned a lot along the way, just in terms of differences in mindsets, and having come from Eastern Europe, recognized a lot of differences. And it's really what led me to come back and stay in the United States after that teenage stint out in Ukraine when I thought I'd live there for longer. I just realized that the approach to accessibility and inclusion was miles different from what I was encountering in the states. And especially after I figured out what my rights were as a now citizen, what my rights were in access to education and resources and training centers. Just incredible.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So the differences are huge and I think that there are people with great intentions that are making efforts around the world to improve access to technology and inclusion. But I can't take for granted what we have here in the states. We're really ahead. We've got a lot of work to do, but we've really made a lot of progress.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

And I think there's really interesting connection here between disability and aging. You mentioned that before your career in Spectrum and before Colorado Center For the Blind, you were also working in hospice care. Could you talk a little bit about the overlap between accessibility and our aging society?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Yeah. One of the things that you see overwhelmingly among the aging population and especially at a higher age is that there's a lot of care provided. And mostly because aging comes with typically a combination of disabilities. And they come at a time when the brain isn't quite as malleable perhaps, or as willing to learn new skills or as able to, because of a host of other disabilities that are included, none of the least of which include things like cognitive impairments, memory impairments, new skills learning abilities, and motor function, speech, hearing, sight, just a real combination of disability types. And so there's a lot of care that's being administered to a lot of our aging population, which later in my life, right before I came to Charter, I actually was working in an outreach function with seniors who are losing their sight. And that's a county area around Denver here.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And what I found is that even they defied what I had learned in hospice care, where I just assumed that older folks needed more care and that was their version of accessibility. But what I learned was that that was a very select group of people that I was working with. There's a large population of seniors who are not only willing, but able to learn new technology. And so I had a lot of fun teaching seniors, primarily over the age of 80, how to use things like VoiceOver on an iPhone, how to use things like JAWS or Window-Eyes at the time, or the Narrator and a number of other assistive technologies that you wouldn't think of assistive technologies, but things like voice recorders or other techniques that you can learn to identify things like clothing and food in your home.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And we were able to keep a lot of these seniors from going into nursing care or into assisted living facilities and able to care for themselves. So there's a lot more self-reliance that's still possible even at an older age for a great number of people who can manage it. So I don't want to paint that picture with one brush.

Will Butler:

You guys are kindred spirits.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Is that so?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I'm really interested in gerontechnology and technology that adapts with us as we age. And I love what you were saying there, because I really think for older adults, it's really about preserving independence because there are so many ways in which society or changes to our bodies are affecting one's independence. And so being able to learn those new tools at an older age and be able to do whatever you want to do without relying on other people is such an important thing.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Agreed.

Will Butler:

Somehow you got into accessibility, Petr, and where did that happen along the way?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Yeah. So it really happened with that senior group that I was working with here in Colorado. Teaching assistive technology to seniors was a really surprising turn in my role. I think I was doing 22 monthly support groups at the time. And in my mind, the approach that I had was entirely counseling oriented, helping seniors really adapt to their new disability or their new environment, or feel comfortable and not feel upset and try to help them preserve as much independence as possible. But what I found was a lot of my seniors in my groups were saying, "How can we learn to use our phone the way that you do?"

Petr Kucheryavy:

They would watch me in the meetings pull up my notes, send an email, really manage my schedule. And they were like, "Can you teach us how to do that?" And so then I just got really excited and set up a number of technology support groups and found that the majority of these seniors were attending the technology support groups. They wanted to learn all the technology available, whether it's prescription readers or synthesize speech screen readers. They wanted to learn them all. And so that gave me some exposure, I think, into the accessibility world. And a friend of mine at the time was working at Charter Spectrum. He reached out and said, "We could use a guy like you on the team here."

Petr Kucheryavy:

And after a little bit back and forth, I was really reluctant to give up just an emotionally rewarding job. I was really enjoying watching seniors thrive and loving the world of neuroscience as well. Just appreciating how much learning can take place at an older age. That brought me a lot of joy too. But there was a huge stage set to change the way that the cable industry approached disabilities and assistive technology and accessibility and so on. And so there was an exciting grassroots effort happening there and I joined the team at the fairly early stages of the accessibility team at Charter. And we were working on things like Guide Narration for the Spectrum set-top boxes and Spectrum Mobile was launching, which was a brand new product. And that was actually my first position at Charter was working on that product and getting that successfully launched to the public in a fully accessible way.

Petr Kucheryavy:

It was a brand new way of approaching accessibility rather than remediation and going back and fixing things. We had an opportunity fairly early on to demonstrate what accessibility could look like if you built in from ideation, from the beginning, from the start. If you considered accessibility as an important component, what a product could look like, and it didn't have to strip down any of the aesthetics or functionality or flexibility of the product. It just looked, felt great from the beginning and happened to be accessible. And that was a really deep plunge into the world of universal design, which is something that we hold as our north star today.

Will Butler:

Okay. So for the last like 10 years or so, cable companies, TV and internet companies have been making a big effort to consider accessibility in this way. But I wonder if we could start by setting the scene a little bit and talk about what did the TV experience used to be like for people with disabilities, and what were the biggest accessibility moments prior to the last several years or maybe more broadly, what are your early memories with entertainment, accessibility and that sort of thing? Do you have any thoughts on that, Petr?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Sure. I can't really speak to what the accessibility efforts in the industry were really prior to me joining. I wasn't a part of the industry and I know that a lot of work needed to be done and we've had some really huge success that we've made over the last several years. So I think most of us who are blind will recall that it wasn't more than just a few years ago when our experience was completely different. When we turned on our cable boxes or tried to watch television. Right off the bat, navigating a guide was completely inaccessible for the most part. And unless somebody was next to you telling you what you were landing on, you really didn't know, or unless you pulled up a guide online, which is what I think most of us did.

Petr Kucheryavy:

You used your assistive technology to read the guide online and then punch in the channels on your remote, which did have the dot on the five, I think on most remotes, which gave us some degree of accessibility with the remote. So miles different, the amount of audio description content that was up. And while we as a cable company don't control the audio description, that's something we rely on the programmers to hand us so that we can pass through. And we'll talk about audio description in a little bit as well with the Spectrum Access app. But the amount of audio description that was available and the amount of control that one had over how much audio description they got was really non-existent. I mean, I can't remember a single program that I watched with audio description until the recent past.

Will Butler:

Yeah. A tiny percent of a tiny amount of broadcast media had to be described. And in order to get access to it, you had to know how to operate the secondary audio program. It was a labyrinth just to get a little tiny bit of audio description, right?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. I think we've made a lot of progress and I think there's a lot of exciting stuff ahead also for audio description and secondary audio programming and creating some ease of access there for the end user. There's an exciting journey ahead for us, but I'm still really excited about where we are today and what we're able to offer. And in some cases, there're really innovative solutions. And that's something that we've been talking a lot about here at Spectrum is being innovators in the industry and in the accessibility space, not only hitting those check boxes, the CVAA and the other regulations that are laid out. We don't just want to look at those as checkbox items, and once we've hit the checkbox we're good, we're on track. We want to be really innovative in the way that we think about the experience for the customer. And so we've done that by hiring people with disabilities on our team as developers, designers, engineers. So the people that represent the product internally are those who reflect the end user. And I think that makes a huge difference.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely. So I'm curious, you mentioned... so you've got a core accessibility team at Spectrum. Is it a center of excellence or what is the makeup of that team like?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Yeah, absolutely. So the Accessibility Center of Excellence or ACE as we call ourselves in short, we are nestled into the product design organizations. So we've got the agency, which is primarily a design functioning group within the product organization. The accessibility team sits side-by-side with the developers and designers that work on all of our products. So our engineers are all out here in Denver. And I think it's a great placement for the accessibility team because they get to walk by our desks regularly when we're working in the office, that is. And some of us are making that effort to do that more often now, but we get to expose the need for accessibility regularly just by being there. I mean, a lot of our teammates walking around with guide dogs and white canes, it's hard to miss the reality of the fact that you're not building an accessibility component onto whatever product you're working on because it's staring you right in the face.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So that's where we are. We've got a team of about 20 people or so. About 44%, I think, of our team currently are people with disabilities. I think we've got a good position to not only market, but I guess the word that people are using, evangelize accessibility across the company. We're well positioned here. And we've also spread our tentacles, if you will, out into the rest of the company and into the field agents space, customer service and all of our other business units to really build a culture of accessibility across Charter as well. And so that's been exciting to see from our offices, our headquarters up in Connecticut, down through North Carolina and St. Louis and all these offices that we have. People are really excited about accessibility, and I've hosted a series of disability etiquette talks. And I think that when you weave accessibility into the culture of the company, it's not only the team that you're sitting in that benefits, the entire company really is on board and I think that's what we're after.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's fantastic. A lot of the companies that we've talked with have really struggled with, how do you release a product that's accessible from the very beginning? And it sounds like a really key factor of success there is having users of the product just in your team, in your company culture of, like you said, how could you make a product that didn't work for your coworker or your friend.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. Yeah. I mean, evangelizing really the core messaging of why we do what we do helps. So talking about universal design as an approach that allows a product or an experience to be all inclusive and better for it, I think is an important one to communicate because for a lot of people, they think of accessibility as an add-on, an extra component, an extra cost, a burdensome item, a new skill that isn't worth training their team on. But when you distill this whole thing down, you realize that actually doing business in this more inclusive fashion, not only expands your customer base and improves your customer experience or your employee experience, depending on what your focus is, you're actually benefiting people without disabilities because products that tend to be more inclusive are better for everyone. And that's something that we've just demonstrated over and over again.

Will Butler:

We probably don't touch on inclusive hiring enough as a very direct way to design inclusively. I don't think we draw the connection enough.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. The diversity of the team behind the product is as important as the product being diverse or having a diverse customer focus.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Absolutely.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, talking about the product a little bit. To set the stage here, there's a whole bunch of different things that Spectrum has done. Some really cool features in both hardware and software. But I think as we use some of these terms, it would be good to define them a bit for folks who aren't as familiar. What are the main media that you're trying to bring forward with your assistive features, whether it's audio description or text to speech or captions or whatever it may be. Maybe starting with audio description for those who aren't as familiar. Can we give folks a little refresher?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Sure. And actually, if you don't mind, I'll take a step back even further and just start with the core product lineup that we have. Now, cable companies been known for three major products and that's cable, obviously internet and typically landline and business phone service. So those are the three areas. Now, we've stepped into a new age of telecommunications where companies like ours have added on a fourth product. I know Comcast has done this. We've certainly had a lot of success with Spectrum Mobile, and that's adding in mobile service. It's a really natural addition to the lineup given that we provide internet and these phones really thrive off of data usage. So it's a natural fourth product for us. So that's really where we are. And when we stop and look at all four of these areas; cable, internet, phone service and mobile phone service, it's almost intuitive what... at least looking at it from the angle of blind users specifically, it's almost intuitive which areas require the most amount of focus. Cable television is a very, very site oriented experience unless done right, we'll call it.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And done right means having an accessible guide that you can navigate and having access to all the audio description available in a very intuitive easy to use fashion. And obviously with internet, hopping online and paying your bills for your internet service and managing your account, those are really important. And for phone services, in particular for mobile phone service, it's the same thing; managing your data plan, managing your account and having access to your bills with ease I think is really, really important. Those are the areas that we focused on.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Now going to your audio description question, audio description obviously being the way that most blind people prefer to watch movies or shows having that additional description playing in between dialogue. It's a great way and a great experience and it's really the only way that I tend to watch TV, but it's not a product of ours, if you will. So original audio description content is not something that cable companies tend to do. The programmers either provide it because they're regulated to for a certain number of hours, or because out of goodwill, they're sharing that audio description content. And so we as the cable company pass that through and a lot of our customers have approached us and said, "Well, what are you guys going to do to improve the amount of audio description that we get?" And it's a complicated space, because as much as we'd like to, it's really not in our wheelhouse. But it didn't stop us, especially given how blind and visually impaired heavy our team is.

Petr Kucheryavy:

It didn't stop us from turning our wheels and saying, "Well, what if there's a creative, innovative way to do this? What if we bring up an app or some way that we can provide additional audio description to the to our customers?" And that landed us down the road in conversations with Actiview. Most people will remember the was Actiview before. And that project rolled up to be what is now Spectrum Access, which does give us an ability, of course without any mandates or regulations or anything like that. It's just an exciting, new, innovative way of giving customers on an app on their phone or tablet access to an audio description library that they can just synchronize with the content that they're watching, whether it be on their on-demand as a Spectrum customer, or even a person who's out of footprint, maybe doesn't live in the Spectrum area, you can still get that app and use it for free with any platform that you wish.

Petr Kucheryavy:

The way that that project evolved is really exciting because it opens tons of doors, not just for our customers and not just for a very specific problem that we're trying to solve, but a very national solution that we can offer to anybody, whether they're a customer or not, and at no charge to them. So being able to get into the audio description space has been really exciting, even though that's technically not a vertical of ours.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So the Spectrum Access app has totally blown me away because I'm used to everything that I go to that's related to cable and I don't use Spectrum, I should disclose that. But every everything that I go to requires a login, requires me to have certain combinations of service providers. The Spectrum Access app, I'm just going to a fan girl about it for a second is amazing because literally you just download it onto your phone and you don't need to log into anything, you don't need to be a Spectrum member, it just works. And I love that aspect of access as well, because just going back to our conversations about older adults, I tutor older adults on technology skills. And one of the biggest barriers to entry into a product is having to sign up for it; entering in an email address, creating a password. And it's honestly revolutionary to me that the Spectrum Access app, you just download it and then you have access to all of these different audio descriptions without ever having to login. Amazing.

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right. So the beautiful thing here is... and I'm just as excited as you are about the product and we've been working on it for a year now. But I worked with a senior population as well, and we're really expanding our efforts with the senior group. Quick little side note and a fun fact that we discovered as we did some analysis of the US census is we found that about 60, that's six zero, percent of people who are vision, hearing or cognitive impaired live in the Spectrum footprint. So that's a substantial number for us to consider, and a growing majority of those are seniors. So seniors strongly are representing in a very exponential way as we move forward. They're representing the disability population.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So thinking about ease of access is super important, not having credentials, not having a sign-in or having to remember some sort of key or code is going to be really important for that population. But also audio description, the way that we think of it is ideally right there. It's built into the thing that you're watching. So if it has to be a separate component, then it should be easy, intuitive, almost thoughtless. But at the same time, if it's going to be on a separate device, it has the ability to offer additional functionality that maybe having audio description right there built into the film wouldn't. And that for us has been the ability to either play the audio description out loud along with the people that you're watching or throw an earbud into your ear, and isolate it to your own experience, which is not something that you can do if you're pulling up secondary audio programming.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And so that's an exciting additional feature to having the Spectrum Access app. But I completely agree with you that ease of access after downloading the app, you're immediately right there in the content. Just download the movie you want to watch and synchronize it, makes the experience super easy and intuitive.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

For our listeners who may not be familiar with how people traditionally configure audio description. So I've never used audio description on a TV before. Is the traditional way of doing it you have to go into this menu, figure out the settings, and then it is set up for the particular program you're watching on your television, and so anyone in the room who's watching the television is also hearing the audio description? Is that the traditional way versus the app based way?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. So currently there's a secondary audio programming function. I'm going to speak from the Spectrum experience, because that's what I'm representing. But with our remote, with the Spectrum box, you can turn Guide Narration on, and audio description on rather quickly with some shortcuts on the remote. There's an accessibility button that's right above the number one key. If you press that and followed by the number two key that turns on Guide Narration on and off, and the number three key, the accessibility button with the number three key will turn on that secondary audio programming. And that is where the audio description tracks, if they are available, that's where they're housed. If they're not available, the programmer may choose to pass through Spanish instead. And so having that quick keyboard shortcut can get you back to the programming without the SAP pretty quickly if you don't want to be listening to the movie or show in Spanish. So that's the current challenge of audio description for some that they have to find it in that slot. And if it's not available, you might get Spanish. That's the traditional way.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So with the Spectrum Access app, you're listening to audio description on your phone while playing the show on your television or some other device. Is that right?

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's correct. Or it's beaming into your headphones or earbuds. And as some have done it, you can plug it into a speaker that's by your TV, if you want it to be coming from the same direction as the sound of your movie or show. So there's some versatility there, but yes, it's on your phone and you can beam it from there wherever you'd like.

Will Butler:

So unlike Cordelia, I am totally biased when it comes to this Spectrum Access because I was an advisor for Actiview. So I've been watching this tech evolve for the last five years or so. And when we launched the first version of Actiview, it was just so exciting because it was frankly stunning that there was no personalized description for getting accessibility content. And all accessibility content in movies, in television and everything hinged on the provider developing a streaming or in theater solution. I just can't emphasize enough how far out ahead you guys are in offering a personalized solution. Maybe we need to paint the picture for people about what kind of impact this can have. Personally, as someone who watches television with a partner, I'm not always comfortable asking them to turn on the audio description. No matter how much they insist that, oh, they actually don't mind it, I sometimes would just rather have it in my own ears and not be subjecting the whole group to this assistive track. I mean, let's really explain to people what impact something like this can have.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Absolutely. So one of the things that I will say is we're finding that a lot more... And I completely sympathize with that experience, Will. I feel the same way. I never want to impose my own accessibility requirements on somebody else and have to, as you call, subject them to it. But we're finding that a growing number of sighted people are actually coming to prefer having the audio description on, not only because it's just incredibly skilled and really it's poetic in a sense. It's like reading a book and watching a movie at the same time. It's the perfect marriage of the two where you get the poetic description of what's happening on scene that supplements what your eyes are able to pick up on or not pick up on. And especially if you've got other disabilities like attention deficit disorder, for instance, you may be more distractible than the average person and the audio description helps keep you on track.

Petr Kucheryavy:

I happen to be both blind and have an attention problem and so it does both for me. But for those who maybe don't appreciate it or it's too much for them, it's overstimulating, this allows a person... I have my Apple earbuds, which are wireless and super easy. I just pull one out of the casing, pop it into my ear and it sends the audio description into my ear and nobody else around me hears it. It allows me to react, respond, laugh, whatever it is, gasp, at the same time as... Because the audio description, it's synchronized to the movie within milliseconds. So it's really, really right on the dot there. And I get to react and respond at the same time that the people that are watching the movie with me are without them having to feel overstimulated by it if they don't want it.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So it really is a neat way to go about it. Now, I find that, like I said, I'm hearing from people that are saying, "How can I download this app and use it?" And they're not even blind. And they're like, "I'm cooking and I'm binge-watching the show. I spend all this time caring for my kids and cooking, and I don't want to miss out on it, or I'm an Uber driver." We're seeing a lot of that right now, also during the pandemic, people are innovating or changing their careers or whatnot. And sometimes they want to still be able to keep up with their content that they're watching.

Will Butler:

Sorry to interrupt. My parents have been telling me that. I turned it on the last time I saw them and that was a year ago, and they've watched the entirety of The Crown on Netflix with audio description. And they will not watch it without the audio description now because they're like, "How are we supposed to know who Lord Farquaad is or whatever without the audio description? They tell us who everybody is." They're obsessed with it. I mean, it's a perfect example of how this very dense show with all these historical characters who you might not be able to identify, it's totally aided by the audio description, no matter who you are.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Exactly. And we're going back to that universal design guiding principles, which is, when you build a component that addresses accessibility needs into the design, you're addressing probably the needs of a much wider audience than you anticipated. We see that with curb cuts, we see that with all kinds of functions that were built into our built environment, elevators, things like that are built in for people with disabilities, people who use a wheelchair to be able to get up to multiple floors with ease. And all of a sudden everybody is really appreciating those elevators.

Petr Kucheryavy:

How many people really take stairs on their way up in an office space or prefer to step up on a curb rather than take the curb cut, especially if they're pushing a stroller or bike or something. And it's the same thing here. 80% of people that use closed captioning have no hearing impairment. That's a staggering number to think about what an accessibility feature has become for the general public. I would love to see this for audio description; figures like that demonstrating the value of audio description and what we've been missing out on for everybody because of what you just said, Will. I mean, there's additional information that helps keep you on track and familiar with all the characters, which is something that I struggle with all the time. It's like, "Who is this again? Who's talking?"

Will Butler:

Did you try it out, Cordelia?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I was doing my physical therapy exercises yesterday, and so staring at the ground and listening to a movie. And it was fantastic because the points where I was not looking at the screen were the points where some really important visual information was conveyed. And so the audio description really, really helped. I hope that audio description becomes more mainstream, like you were talking about Petr, more like closed captioning. And I wonder will that open up the space for more... It seems like a real art of you're not just blandly describing the scene. There's a lot of opportunity for creativity in that space, so I wonder if audio description's becoming more mainstream, will open up more creative interpretations of what even audio description is?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. So I'm hopeful that with the marketing that we've been doing with Spectrum Access, that we can bring it to the mainstream. The more people that download and use the app, the more leverage we have to demonstrate to our studio partners what the value of licensing or allowing for additional audio description for their shows and movies to be hosted on the apps library has. And this really bridges two things together here. One is the value of audio description. And two is the importance of marketing with people with disabilities and for people with disabilities. Because if you don't market those products and features, then they don't gain the popularity that they need, and so they don't get that traction. And so popularizing these features or a feature like audio description is very important.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And we recently launched a new brand spot that's running. If you're a Spectrum customer, you're going to see it during the commercial cycle. But it was an original brand spot that we filmed with director Noam Murro. And it was just a very beautiful depiction of the experience of a young blind woman with Spectrum Access and watching a movie. So they filmed what looks like a segment of a film. It's just starts off as a visionary film, car going through the desert and the audio description is describing this desert scene and the intensity that's building up. And as a sighted person, you're watching this experience and you're seeing little details that are happening there and the dusty air blowing through the guy's hair and stuff like that. And these were all experiences that I got to talk to the director about and shared what my experience was like going through the Moab Desert and the deserts in California.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And I was like, "Well, I might've not been able to see much there, but this was my desert experience." And so the goal there was to give even the sighted person a glimpse into the imagination of a young blind woman that was watching this with the audio description, what depictions come up in her mind, what experiences might arise in her mind and build those into the visuals so that there's no disconnect at all between watching with audio description and watching it visually. So that was just really incredible and we hired an authentic young blind woman who really just sat down on the couch and gave it her own personal experience as somebody who uses audio descriptions. So it didn't have to be fabricated or anything like that. It was just completely authentic, and it put the power into her hands.

Petr Kucheryavy:

I mean, we could probably run the commercial too, but the power dynamic was completely shifted. As a person who's blind, I think to myself, how many times have I had to ask a sighted friend or partner that's sitting next to me watching a movie, "Hey, what just happened? What was that? Who's this guy?" It feels like you're stripped of your power. You really don't know what's going on, you have to keep asking the person next to you. In this particular scene, it's the boyfriend, or the guy, the friend that steps away and comes back with popcorns like, "Wait, what happened? What did I miss? Why didn't you pause it?" And it's the girl that's actually gasping and responding like, "Oh, he's in trouble." She's just completely honed in into the film. I think that kind of marketing helps us get the traction that we need to popularize audio description and make it more mainstream.

Will Butler:

One final question about this, Petr, before we talk a little bit more about the other features. So you have a big job ahead of you in that you have to license all this content, all the TV shows, all the movies. If we want Spectrum Access to truly be the hub for all audio descriptive content, how do you pull that off? There's so many studios and networks and all these things and how can the average user help build that library?

Petr Kucheryavy:

Well, we have some very strong relationships with some studio partners and some very willing ones that have been able to just hand over audio description content and are very excited about it. They're excited about it, the opportunities that it presents. And some others that we're still in conversation with where we're explaining that value benefit; if you provide the licensing for the audio description content, more people are actually going to be viewing your content. And the way the app is designed, you actually have to be viewing the movie or show on an approved platform that you're either subscribed to, or watching with commercials. But you have to be watching it on the platform where you would be watching it to begin with. The app is simply a supplement, so it only synchronizes with what you're watching on TV.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So it doesn't give you access to the content standalone. So let's say for instance, if you wanted to watch LA's Finest, you wouldn't be able to just pull it up in the app and watch it. You'd have to, in this particular case, either be a Spectrum subscriber or have an approved way to watch that content that's a Spectrum original, and that would have to be playing on your TV before you synchronize it. So those are the conversations that we're having.

Petr Kucheryavy:

The way that the average person can help, I think I hinted on this earlier, is download the app and use it and tell others to download the app and use it. The bigger those numbers are, the more we can demonstrate that people are actually benefiting from this end. There's always a business argument that we have to make for accessibility. What's the business argument for moving this direction? Well, you get an expanded base of content viewers, and that's something that they want. And if you don't go in this direction, then you're at a potential loss of this many viewers. And so that's what we're on a mission to do now is just encourage people to use it. It's free. We intend for it to stay free and unauthenticated so that it's easy to use. So there's really no fear of downloading it and then being roped into some sort of pay per use. It's going to stay free. So I guess it's just simple, download it and use it.

Will Butler:

Forgive me if you don't know the answer, but do you think some of these big streamings like Netflix and HBO that are doing original content are going to play ball or is that yet to be seen?

Petr Kucheryavy:

I don't know. It's the most [peceiving 00:59:13] idea. I don't know. I'm watching it closely just like you are, eager to see. I think there's some gleams of hope for those who aren't on the audio description train. I think there's some hope they are joining from what I'm hearing. So I think that our advocacy work that we're doing, writing to them and asking them to deliver on it is helping.

Will Butler:

That's fantastic.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I think Netflix has some pretty phenomenal audio descriptions and it would be amazing if those were also available in that app so that people could have that personalized audio description experience that we've been talking about.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Right. So what you'll find is a lot of times you'll find movies or shows in the apps library that maybe already have the audio description on one of those platforms. And so you have the flexibility to either turn it on the platform that you're watching it on or within the app. So there's going to be the options for the user.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So we've been talking a lot about Spectrum Access' audio descriptions. I know there's also closed captioning available in the app, and I know you all have so many other accessibility offering. So I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about some of Spectrum's accessibility features and services.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Sure. Yeah. There is closed captioning in the app as well. I know we haven't talked about it much. Probably because we're talking about a blind or visually impaired audience, but also closed captioning is pretty readily available and hasn't really seen the friction that audio description has in terms of getting out in the numbers that we need it to. But there is some flexibility with closed captioning within the app as well, being able to modify that text as you need it. And we've got a lot planned for the app, everything from continuing to look at that theatrical capability of the app, so that you can take the app into a theater and be able to use your phone to pull up the audio description rather than using the apparatus that they provide that oftentimes doesn't work as we know, and different languages, that kind of thing. So the app is going to continue to see an evolution, and I'm really excited about that.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's awesome.

Petr Kucheryavy:

But in terms of the other products or features that we offer, probably the central one to our core business is our flagship set top box based product, which is... And I call it a product, but it's rather a feature on a product, and that's Guide Narration. So if you're currently a Spectrum customer, you're most likely familiar with Guide Narration. You're able to navigate your guide with speech output in a synthesized voice that you can use just like you would on your smart device to navigate around the screen, make selections and check on listings and play times and such.

Petr Kucheryavy:

So Guide Narration is definitely going to be our most well-known feature out there. If you are a Spectrum customer and you don't know what I'm talking about, but would like to know more, I encourage you to get that turned on. We ensure that our customers with disabilities get a $0... it's a free truck roll to your home to get that updated or installed, or your box replaced so that you can have that feature. So give us a call and the phone number is +1 844-762-1301. That phone number is very specific to our call center that take our accessibility calls. So they're better trained on accessibility products and features, they'll know exactly what you're talking about. And we currently implemented a little feature for those agents where they can notate your account as you being a person with a visual impairment so that way you're guaranteed to not have those additional charges in your account for things like truck rolls and other benefits where they can cater to your needs a little better. So make sure you tell them that you're blind or visual impaired.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Now, along with that Spectrum Guide, you can get a big button remote. So Cordelia, we were talking about seniors and making sure that we're keeping them front and center of our design. We created a big button remote that's easier to see, easier to feel, easier to find, addresses a lot of needs for, in particular our senior population. But we found that others enjoy the remote as well. So you can get a bigger buttoned remote or a bigger sized remote with bigger buttons at your local Spectrum Store. You can call Spectrum and ask them to send one to you. So it's really easy to get and they'll give it to you for free. So you can grab one right in hand or free at a store if you want it right away. So there is that.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And then if you like the standard remote that comes with a box, but it's too cluttered. That's another thing in our focus groups that we found was some of the seniors said they liked this remote, but there's just too many buttons and it's difficult to remember which... We want just the ones that we use. So we did a number of these focus sessions and found out which buttons are the ones that are most used, particularly by seniors or maybe some people that have some motor disabilities in their hands and just want the buttons exposed that they use and we created an overlay. And you can call in and request that overlay as well, field agents have them in their trucks. They're really ubiquitous so it's easy to get one. And you can just clip that onto the face of your remote and hide all the buttons that you're not using.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's so cool.

Will Butler:

You hear that, Cordelia. A good overlay.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. A good overlay. We've being talking a lot-

Petr Kucheryavy:

A good overlay. That's right.

Will Butler:

I'm sorry. We'll cut that out or maybe don't, I don't know.

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. I was going to ask, because I think that overlay is really cool and I was wondering about the kind of design and research process. So it sounds like you all had focus groups to really understand user need. And it sounds like the idea came out of focus groups.

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right. So we've got a research partner that we work with that helps us host these focus groups. And in my job as well, being in the outreach role, I get to see something that I doubted that companies actually did, which is take feedback and implement it into their design. And I get to see that actually happen. I come back from conferences, convention, CSUN, wherever it is that I am, and I come back and I bring the feedback in and the suggestions sometimes automatically get implemented into the next release because they're just bug catchers or something like that. And so customer feedback and input is really important. And even if we can't change the design of the original product, we try to design a work around like the good overlay that allows you to hide the buttons you're probably not going to be using like the input button or something like that, and give you access to your primary buttons that you want to be using regularly.

Will Butler:

Any overlay is good if I can peel it off and get some real buttons underneath it.

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right. And it's easy to clip on too.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. It's like settings on, I don't know, any app where it's like, you have your basic settings, but if you really want to dig in deep, you can go to advanced settings or you can pop the overlay off and then you get all the buttons you could possibly want.

Petr Kucheryavy:

That's right. Well, you said the word app and one of the important things that we're also focused on is knowing that some people are either cord cutters or they're streamers or whatever, and they want to access everything from their phone or tablet. And those are devices that we're really familiar with. We know voiceover accessibility features on iPhone or TalkBack on a Google phone and so on. So all of our streaming platforms, we worked really hard to make sure that those were accessible with the accessibility features on those devices as well. So beyond Spectrum Guide with Guide Narration, we have Spectrum TV on the Apple TV, which works really well with those accessibility features. There we've got Spectrum TV on mobile. When I travel and I'm in a hotel, I typically just pull up Spectrum TV app on my phone and I can cast it to the TV in the hotel if it allows me, or just have it next to me. And that works really well with all the accessibility features of both Android and iOS platforms.

Petr Kucheryavy:

We've got Spectrum Mobile like I mentioned earlier, and that has the Spectrum Mobile account management app that's really accessible. One of the cool things I remember working on that product, sometimes it's just the little things that get you excited, and it was the ability to just go to the rotor and navigate by headings through your call log so you could get through a little quicker. Just little things like that that are just beyond the checkbox items, where we wanted to make sure that the experience was great.

Petr Kucheryavy:

And then you of course have your account management app for your general services that is also accessible. And then we've got Spectrum.net that is a website for our customers that they can visit to view all the products available and manage their account on there. And so for folks that might be taking notes and they want to visit in a little more detail a webpage that can talk about our products, we've got spectrum.net/page/accessibility. And that's where you get those latest scoop on what we've got going on. We're working on building some support videos on there that you can click on and tutorials about how to use Spectrum products. So excited about that coming on board as well.

Will Butler:

Petr, you guys are doing amazing stuff. We could have been here for two hours.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I'm kind of overwhelmed right now. It's just like, wow.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, I'm so happy that the Actiview app lives on. And I just know that in a few years when personalized customizable media entertainment access is a standard, we'll be able to look back and say, "This was an important moment." So thank you for joining us, Petr.

Petr Kucheryavy:

Thank you for having me on. It's been a lot of fun. Pleasure.