This week has been one of change for my family and I with regard to our home network, telephone and television. We decided to try AT&T’s U-verse service, which combines all of those products into one package. The technician was at our home installing everything for about 5 hours. Honestly, when the TV, phone and internet were out, I felt like we had literally lost power. What a relief it was when things turned on and bit by bit restored to life.

The internet came on with no problem, other than our speed decreased slightly from what we had with DSL. I also had to have my outgoing e-mail port unblocked in order to send messages from my business e-mail address.  The telephone worked right away, though we are having a little issue with our talking caller id which may or may not be able to work. I started a list of questions that I would call and ask either tech support or customer service about, and the adventure was on.

The real fun for me came with the television, learning new channel numbers, remote buttons, etc. The first thing I did was look for a channel guide on line, since I am of course unable to use the on-screen information. I tend to try and memorize my favorite channels and all of the numbers had changed. Once I had that information, I wanted to see if I could find an accessible on-line program guide, so that I could see what was on when. The first one I found was very inaccessible, it was not in a table format and there was no way for me to see which shows corresponded to each channel. I put this on my list of things to call and ask about.

One of the major reasons for our decision to go uverse is the ability to record shows and watch them on any television in the house. I like to record shows for my daughter from PBS or Disney, but I don’t usually want to watch them over and over the way she does. Now, they can be recorded and she can watch them in the play room while I work or watch something more entertaining. The other great option is that I can actually program my cable box to record shows using my computer. Now I don’t have to depend on my husband or other sighted help to record the shows I want. I can also manage my recordings on-line, delete shows and see what has been recorded. The main site to accomplish this is somewhat accessible, but I find that using the mobile version is faster, more compact and easier to navigate.

One really nice option that my husband found was the ability to put some sound to menu using. Unfortunately, the options will not talk, but you can make it so that as you arrow around, you hear a sound. This allows me to count arrows in any direction and try to choose options that way. I have not yet found an accessible manual that will take you through step by step how to do things with the menu, but perhaps something could be written for a blind user, incorporating the number of sounds and arrows up, down, left or right.

Another important question I had was regarding the SAP or Secondary Audio Programming channel. It is through this audio channel that audio described television is provided when available. For now, there is a limited number of programs offered in the U.S with this feature, but many shows on PBS do have descriptions. I had to find out first, if this channel was available on U-verse, and second, how to turn it on and off. I put that on my list of questions and decided it was time to make the call and see what answers I could get.

I called the main number and muddled through the voice automated system and first found myself and customer care. I explained that I was new to U-verse, I am blind and had some questions about accessibility. I then had to explain what I meant by accessibility, that I am totally blind and have no vision whatsoever and that I enjoy watching TV even though I cannot see it. I really stumped them when I asked about their website, and where I could go to find usable content that does not require me to scroll around with the mouse. My call was transferred.

I found myself talking to a very nice lady in tech support. I started from the beginning and I could tell that she too was not sure what to say or do. She was very courteous and was able to help me with my question about the SAP channel, after a lot of time consulting manuals and probably coworkers. She explained to me how to access the channel, even told me the exact location of the buttons on the remote control and number of arrows to the right I would go in order to turn it on and off. She said they have it listed as the Spanish channel, but that same audio channel is used for descriptions as well. I’m not sure she really understood as I explained what audio described television was, but perhaps it gave her something to talk about with her friends at work. She was not sure how to help me with regard to the website, so again, I was transferred.

A very nice gentleman was my next victim, I think he was in web support. I told him what I was looking for and he gave me a few options to try for places to find channel line-ups and guides. He even waited as I explored them to see if indeed they were accessible to me. I found one, the U-connect site,  that was in table format and worked very well. I could see show times and channels by using simple table navigation commands in Jaws. He was also the one that unblocked my e-mail SMTP port. He tried to help me with the talking caller id issue, but I am still not sure there will be a solution to that one. He was very nice and somewhat curious about just what a blind person liked to watch. I don’t think he had ever known or spoken to someone who couldn’t see, so perhaps he left with new knowledge and something to chat about with his coworkers too.

So after reading all of this, you are probably wondering, is it worthwhile to switch to U-verse if you have the option. Well, give me some more time and playing with it and then ask that question. I will say that everyone I talked to, no matter how unsure or stumped by my questions and issues, was very respectful and really tried to help. I think that as big as AT&T is, they definitely need to have an accessibility department, or a go to guy for questions related to customers with disabilities. Maybe some of my readers here would know how to put a bug in their ear so to speak and get something in place? If any of you out there are using AT&T, I would love to hear your experiences with various products and services they offer. Overall, I think we made a good decision in switching, but as with any change of this kind, it takes a lot of time and effort to learn how it all works.