Comcast and Connect Direct, a subsidiary of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), announced the launch of customer service support via American Sign Language (ASL) for Internet Essentials, Xfinity Internet, and general Xfinity billing questions, called “ASL Now.”
With the combined expertise of both companies, Internet Essentials and Xfinity customers can now connect with customer service agents in their native language, ASL. This is a “first for the cable industry,” according to the announcement, and it will reportedly help to further address the digital divide for Americans with disabilities by ensuring that members of the deaf community can get connected to the Internet at home, without barriers.
The announcement was made at a digital inclusion rally at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD) to celebrate Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, an Internet adoption program for low-income households. The launch of ASL Comcast customer support is said to be “a continuation of Comcast’s commitment to the disability community.”
According to Pew Research Center, the need to address the digital divide for people with disabilities is clear. The study found that 23% of people with disabilities say they never go online, and 57% say they do not even have a home broadband subscription.
“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation. “By partnering with Connect Direct and working with the deaf community, we want to address and break down the barriers to broadband adoption that are unique to this population. That starts by being able to speak with customers in their native language.”
“We are especially happy to partner with Comcast on this initiative, which represents a significant leap forward in broadening the reach of services available in ASL and creating more avenues for fuller participation of deaf people in society,” said Christopher Soukup, Chief Executive Officer of CSD. “Comcast’s commitment to launching an ASL customer service center underlines a shift in attitude by major corporations in recognizing the value of deaf people and the benefit and ease in delivering exceptional customer service through their customers’ language of choice.”
In line with Comcast’s commitment to make products, services, and experiences accessible to the widest possible audience including people with disabilities, 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.
Additionally, the Learning Center on the Internet Essentials website now includes nearly 50 Internet safety and digital literacy videos with closed captions for the deaf. Topics include: online safety and security, basic uses of the Internet, and how to get various things done online. The website is also operable with assistive technologies, such as screen reader software, for the blind or visually impaired. Earlier this year, Comcast announced a partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and, working together, the two organizations will continue to add even more digital literacy training content to the Learning Portal that will be specifically designed for people with disabilities.
At PSD, Comcast also surprised 90 students by giving them free tablets and six months of complimentary Internet service at home through the Internet Essentials program. Additionally, in partnership with Dell Technologies, the Company announced it will donate new computer equipment to PSD for students to learn vital digital skills.