This article, about making the internet accessible to those with disabilities, was sponsored by Comcast.
Have you ever been witness to a moment that you knew would change a child’s life forever?
Last week, I had that honor when I witnessed Comcast gift 90 students at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf an iPad and 6 months of internet accessible services through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program.
Through my partnership with Comcast I was invited to the Digital Inclusion Rally where I knew this announcement and donations were going to take place. I knew and still I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that were going to overcome me.
I arrived at the Digital Inclusion Rally at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and like the students there I sat through a lot of announcements. Dignitaries, executives, and leaders all spoke about their background, the need to make the internet more accessible, and what they were doing to accomplish that.
The announcements were monumental, but I imagine like most school assemblies, the students got a bit bored at times. Then things got a bit interesting. David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation read a few “I’m ready” statements – written by the students. The statements were awe-inspiring. Despite the challenges these students have faced they are ready to take on the world. They are ready for what’s next.
“I’m ready to succeed.”
“I’m ready to get a job.”
David chose three students to bring to the stage. He praised them for their statements. They were the first to be surprised with iPads and free internet service. He finished up his presentation by making the grandest announcement of them all. Each student in attendance, all 90, would be going home with their own iPad and 6 months of free internet service.
Yes, there were interpreters in the room communicating with the students in sign language. Screens showed the announcement in close captioning. But the announcement didn’t sink in right away with the students. It took a few seconds.
Being in that room was something else. My peers and I, teachers, volunteers and more watched the students react. As it began to sink in you could see such joy in their faces. They had been happy for their classmates, but they were overjoyed to learn that Comcast’s generosity would also extend to them. There were squeals. There was clapping. There was dancing in the seats. It was incredible. I can’t find the right words to express all the emotions I felt, but I was definitely crying tears of joy for them.
I wasn’t alone in crying tears of joy.
We were all looking for our tissues. You could feel the appreciation and difference this was going to make to the students just in their responses and faces. Joy and appreciation are universal, words were not needed.
The Digital Inclusion Rally is part of Comcast’s Internet Essentials’ efforts to close the digital divide and make the internet accessible low-income families, as well as those with disabilities.
Comcast Internet Essentials and making the internet accessible to all
Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive high-speed Internet adoption program for low-income households. It provides low-cost Internet service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and access to free digital literacy training. Comcast has now connected more than eight million low-income Americans to the Internet through its Internet Essentials program.
To attack the problem of the digital divide, Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design meant to address each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, the lack of a computer, and the absence of a low-cost Internet service. The program is also structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.
In addition to gifting Pennsylvania School for the Deaf students new iPads and 6 months of Internet service, Comcast made additional announcements regarding making the Internet more accessible to those with disabilities.
Connect to Comcast Customer Service using American Sign Language
Comcast and Connect Direct, a subsidiary of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD) have launched customer service support via American Sign Language (ASL) for Internet Essentials, Xfinity Internet, and general Xfinity billing questions, called ASL Now.
Using ASL Now, Internet Essentials and Xfinity customers can now talk with a customer service representative using American Sign Language. It’s a significant milestone in bridging the digital divide and making the internet accessible for those with disabilities.
I am so proud to see that Comcast is the first in the cable industry to offer this level of customer service and that they have chosen Jersey Family Fun to be a part of announcing this to families in New Jersey and other areas where Comcast serves. Their work to develop ASL Now ensures that members of the deaf community can get connected to the Internet at home without barriers. Let’s hope all utility companies and internet providers will take their lead.
“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David 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.”
The launch of ASL Comcast customer support is a continuation of Comcast’s commitment to the disability community. Take a look at what else Comcast is doing to make the internet more accessible.
Essential Internet Education for All
As part of Comcast’s commitment to make their products, services, and experiences accessible to people with disabilities, Comcast also announced that it created an internetessentials.com/accessibility landing page that will provide resources to help the blind and visually impaired as well as the hearing impaired use the internet.
Resources to help the blind and visually impaired use the internet
The Internet Essentials landing page will include 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 Comcast Internet Essentials website will also work with assistive technologies, such as screen reader software, for the blind or visually impaired.
Resources to help the hearing-impaired use the internet
The Internet Essentials online learning center now includes nearly 50 videos with closed captioning. Topics include:
- online safety and security,
- basic uses of the internet,
- and how to get various things done online.
- Internet safety and digital literacy videos with closed captions for the deaf.
Working with the American Association of People with Disabilities, Comcast will continue to add even more internet training and resources to the Learning Portal that will be specifically designed for people with disabilities.
Comcast and Dell bring new technology to those with disabilities
As I mentioned earlier, even though I knew Comcast would surprise the 90 students at the Digital Inclusion Rally by giving them free tablets and six months of complimentary Internet service at home through the Internet Essentials program, it was still a very emotional announcement.
The donations did not stop at that. In partnership with Dell Technologies, Comcast announced it will donate new computer equipment to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf for students to learn important digital skills. After all, for all of these students, and others with disabilities, to be ready to succeed we need to make the internet as accessible as possible.
How can you support the Comcast Internet Essentials program to make the internet accessible and affordable to NJ families?
- Spread the word! If you know someone who can benefit with this program provide them with this link www.internetessentials.com or call 855-846-8376 to apply.
- If your kids are in a school district with students, that need Internet access at home, recommend the school reach out to Comcast. Comcast is not permitted to reach out directly to schools.
- If you work with a community nonprofit that works with low-income families or adults become an Internet Essentials Partner. Teachers, educators, community-based organizations and government officials can help spread the word about Internet Essentials. By registering as a partner, you can place an order for complimentary brochures, flyers and other materials to pass along to your community. Program materials are available in 14 languages.
Do you know someone with a disability that could benefit from learning how Comcast has made the internet more accessible?
Make their day by sharing this article with them.