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Seeing The Spectrum | Petr Kucheryavyy

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CANE ENABLED | AUDIO INTERVIEW

Editor’s Note:

“Born Accessible,” the first time I heard this term was during the recording of today’s interview with Petr Kucheryavyy of Spectrum Access. Without giving too much away, the term essentially means that this company is wholeheartedly focused on inclusion. From the corporate culture to the products and services they provide their approach really “Sees” the broad spectrum of their customers. Along with the YouTube interview we’ve also provided the transcript for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Interview Transcript:

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, the home of Beyond Sight Magazine, and this month’s August 2020 Cane EnAbled segment. In addition to celebrating all things related to the white cane including safety and usage personalization, this monthly series also shares broad perspectives from those in the field including parents of blind and visually impaired children, advocates, exciting news on the technology front. Cane EnAbled is published on the fourth Monday of each month. Petr Kucheryavyy is a Senior Manager in the Accessibility Division of Charter Communications. He’s here to share more on the Spectrum Access app. This is when Charter launched Spectrum Access app, which it helps to enhance entertainment options for people with vision impairments or hearing impairments. The focus here is placed on the audio description and close captioning. So with a warm welcoming, here is Petr to tell us more. Hello, Petr.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Hi Nasreen.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Nice to meet you. Welcome.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Nice to meet you as well. Thank you.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You have an incredible journey, Petr, which started with being born in the Ukraine during the Chernobyl explosion, which is a disastrous nuclear accident, which many of us remember from that time and era. This took place in 1986. Can you share your journey with us about that, you growing up? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Sure, absolutely. So I was born just two months prior to the April ’86 nuclear power plant explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine. I wasn’t far from that area at the time as a toddler, and it was a really panicky moment because there was really a disconnection between people and politicians, certainly in Soviet Russia at the time. And so, people were afraid that they weren’t getting the full information, and certainly now, with a retrospective eye looking backward, they were right. There wasn’t all the information that they needed and a lot of people were exposed to radioactive dust that was in the air for quite a while following the accident, inhaling radioactive dust and getting closer to the disaster site. And so naturally, my parents panicked as well.

They had me evaluated and it turned out that I got a clean bill of health. Of course, about nine years down the road, it was becoming more and more difficult for me to hide the fact that something was going on with my eyesight and it was actually an American woman… We had moved to the states shortly before then. It was an American woman that volunteered to take me to a clinic and have my eyes evaluated after noticing some changes. And it was determined that I was then officially legally blind and I had the prospect of potentially losing the entirety of my sight over the course of some unknown period of time. This threw a major wrench in the way that I was educated or not educated. And I quickly, by the age of 10, I’d lost so much sight that I was not able to read printed text or even enlarged text because I was losing that central vision first, which we use to read text with.

And so, it became more and more challenging to even use things like magnification, and between age 10 and 15, I maintained my post in school, but I was effectively illiterate if you will, without access to alternative reading materials like braille and so on. I didn’t know my rights. My parents didn’t speak English, so they weren’t strong advocates within the system either. And unfortunately at age 15, I managed to pull myself out of school, and I went into construction work, which seems like a bizarre alternative to this conundrum I was in, but it’s where a lot of immigrants ended up. And if I hid my vision problems well enough, then I would be okay. And I would do things like stay overnight studying the construction site and showing up extra early to really get a scope of the area so I can navigate it somewhat confidently. Now, the good news is that eventually I discovered my resources and rights and groups that were available to assist with training, and I did get an education and go back to college and began a more sustainable career journey from there.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So why the interest for Charter? Why did they feel like they need to develop an inclusive line of services for users that are hearing impaired or visually impaired?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, absolutely. So, my journey after college really took me into the healthcare world, wellness coaching and practice, and I worked in hospice care for a while, but I sort of accidentally stumbled into a role with the Colorado Center for the Blind out here in Colorado, where I am now. And I ended up staying there for several different positions and employment and outreach for seniors who are losing their sight. And during that final role there working with seniors, I found myself teaching a lot of technology, technology access, non-visual access to things like mobile devices and so on. And that got me some visibility in Charter whose product and accessibility offices are here in Denver, and they reached out and asked if I’d be willing to join the team to work on a new rollout of a new product called Spectrum Mobile, which went live in 2018.

And so, we were working on the accessibility of that product line, making sure that it was what we call born accessible. And so, Spectrum Mobile, when it launched, what born accessible means is that the design and features were all built considering accessibility from the start. And so that was a really powerful thing to think about bringing to a company and helping a company do. And so, I was attracted to that opportunity and eventually got into other parts of accessibility as well.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So every product in the quote unquote born accessible line right out of the box, it was very user friendly, would you say?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

That’s correct. So, many companies have not considered accessibility at all for many, many years, and so, Charter was wanting to not only remediate or rebuild some of the products they already had to be accessible, but we wanted to make sure that anything that we launched to our Spectrum customers was completely accessible from the start if it’s a new product, and Spectrum Mobile was an opportunity to look at that, from ideation to production, accessibility would be a part of the journey. And so that meant that when a customer gets the product, on day one, or sign up for Spectrum Mobile service, let’s say in this case, when they launched the account management app, they would be able to navigate the entire application, either using Zoom or voiceover or whatever accessibility features on their devices they were using and have not only an accessible experience, but a truly usable one.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So, when it came to the mobile devices that Spectrum launched in the born accessible line, were these mostly smartphones or did you also have the flip phone? Did you start with a flip phone, then graduate to a smartphone or were they always smartphones?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

We focused on the devices that we would be launching with, which were indeed all smartphones. So we were focusing on the Android and iOS devices that would be launching in our stores and compatible with the service. And so, because all of those were smart devices, that’s what we focused on.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So, how does the Spectrum app help to enhance television experience for folks with disabilities?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, absolutely. So, Spectrum Access. I mentioned born accessible being a new concept that we introduced to any new product coming on board, but Spectrum Access really fell into its own category as an innovation product. It was really a way for us to address an industry wide gap in delivery of audio description, especially audio description to customers. The app also includes close captioning, which probably, I would say has less of a gap in terms of delivery as compared to audio description, but it still offers a really convenient way to access both of those features. So Spectrum Access was a partnership really initially with active view, which was an application launched to deliver audio description and closed captioning to the market, on demand if you will. And eventually though, it was determined that the best way to partner was actually to acquire the app, rebrand it and use our leverage with the studios that we have partnerships with to get approval for additional audio description content to be added into the application.

So we’ve been able to add, I think we’re well over 400 now, if not more, and counting by the hundreds in terms of the amount of content that we have in the application. And what it does is, it allows a user to… Let’s say, if you wish to watch a movie, I recently decided to watch Ray, the documentary about Ray Charles, and on iTunes there was no audio description available for the movie. So, I found the movie in the Spectrum Access library. I rented and then launched the movie on iTunes and then hit sync on my device after downloading the audio description track, and what it did is it identified where I was in that movie within several milliseconds of the spot and paired the audio description to that point, and I just threw on an earbud and I was ready to go. So I was listening to audio description in my ear bud and the sound of the movie was still playing in my living room. And so, that’s what it does, is allows you to take audio description and close captioning on the go wherever you are. If it’s in the Spectrum Access library, you can pair it with a movie or show on any platform.

Nasreen Bhutta:

That’s seamless, it’s easy for anybody to do. And like you just said, it’s just pairing it, pressing the sync button and off you go with a pair of headphones. I think that’s innovative and very user friendly. How do you decide what type of content goes into the Spectrum Access library, and do you know the volume of content that’s in there now?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Yeah, all great questions. So, while the app is available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re a customer for free, the way the content is largely determined, not solely, but largely determined is by the content available in our on-demand library, Spectrum’s on-demand library. So for our customers who have on-demand, we really wanted to bring additional access to that on-demand library through Spectrum Access. And so, as we review the movie and show lineup that we have there, that’s really what we aim for. We start to pull for that content first and along with it comes, sometimes handfuls of other movies and shows that maybe aren’t in the on-demand library, but if we can get access to them, we add them in as well. And so, the last time I checked, I think we had a little over 400 movies, but we’ve also started to add some episodic content, so some shows, and additional movies. I think we’re set to add a few hundred more assets into the app, so I think we’ll be getting close to probably a thousand maybe by the end of this year, hopefully.

Our customers get to enjoy the application with their on demand library content, or whatever platform they’re really using, as well as those who are not our customers. So let’s say you live outside the Spectrum area and you are not a customer, you can still download the application and use it just as anyone else would, absolutely free. So this was our gift to the community, really helping to solve a broader access issue in the industry.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, I absolutely love that. I love the fact when you said it’s a gift from us to the community. I think that, that’s even an incredible more initiative and really social impactable initiative that you all set up there at Charter and Spectrum Mobile. I think it’s fantastic. Can this app, just out of curiosity, the Spectrum Access app, people are always trying different things out there and would somebody be able to perhaps use your app over, maybe something they’re watching in Netflix, for example?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right. So the platform doesn’t matter in this particular case. So, we’re even looking to expand the application to… Once COVID is over and people are going back to the movie theaters, we’re looking ahead to theatrical support so that the application can also be used at a movie theater, for instance. So, this is a really bold move because we focus so much on all of our other products and making sure that they’re accessible. So for instance, guide narrations, Spectrum Guide with guide narration, allows a user to navigate their set-top box entirely non-visually with the aid of a speech to text software, that’s running on the box. And like I mentioned, some of the applications that we built work with the devices accessibility features and all of this is very conscious effort to make sure that our product lineup is accessible, but this really goes above and beyond any usability and compliance efforts. It’s a way to get creative and solving real problems and focusing on the issues that the blind, visually impaired, and deaf and hearing impaired communities have been facing.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I think that is really excellent and commendable, you guys, to have one of those digital boxes that is just ready, programmable and audible out of the gate, because once you… You’re right, you’re setting up your system, you have no voiceover to help you, no audible cues at all. So it’s very frustrating, especially even if let’s say you press the wrong button later and it just shuts down or it does a restart, you didn’t notice. I’m assuming all of the cues even in a situation like that are still audible.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right, so everything that we work on, we want to make sure that it delivers full independence to the customer or the user in the case of Spectrum Access from the start. Independence is very important and we’re constantly solving for these issues as we see them in every aspect of our market or our product lineup. So, we’re exploring new relationships, new partnerships and collaborative efforts when necessary or solving for the problems directly through our development and design teams internally, and our accessibility team. Our team is made up, probably about half of us are people with disabilities, very largely representing the blind and visually impaired communities because that’s where a lot of the gaps were. And so, there was a lot of passion internally to solve for these issues and make sure that there’s independence from end to end.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Yeah, I think that’s a big, big thing. When you have people in a team that represent some of the problems that then can put their heads together and find the solutions to those problems. I think that makes a big difference at the end product result, if people can identify with the problems to begin with.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Right.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Excellent work by Spectrum. Hats off to you guys and hats off to the Spectrum Access app itself. Do you know if you have a large disability following?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

We’ve got a growing community of people who are getting excited about what we’re doing, both in terms of the Spectrum Access app and all of our products, and the new accessibility feature that they’re discovering sometimes by surprise, and while that’s exciting, I don’t want anything to be a surprise. My role as the outreach lead for our team is to be in the community and communicate with the community about what it is that we’re doing. So, when applications like Spectrum Access are launched, or we’ve got new features, like the rollout of Spectrum Guide with guide narration to our full market. When things like that happen, we want to make sure that people know about it. And so, to your point, whether or not we have a large following, I think that if this summer has proven anything, it’s that the following of enthusiasts, if you will, for what we’re doing is really growing.

The comments have been really generous and there’s a lot of gratitude where people are saying things like, “This really opens up my ability to have the access to entertainment, television that I didn’t have before,” and “Thank you for being a leader in the industry. Thank you for delivering products, not just because you’re making money off of it, but because you care.” And these are the things that are great for us to hear because we think that if we establish a good relationship with the disability community, then it’s not only the right thing to do to build products that are accessible and to make those connections, but it is good for our bottom line, even if it’s not immediately evident. We can’t negate the economic power of joining forces with the disability community because that’s, by some accounts, as many as one out of five people in the United States. So it’s really important that we make those connections and build that following, as you called it.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Absolutely. And I love the fact, you said, “A company that cares,” because I think what the community sometimes lacks is companies that do care, that customer service, geared to their needs and what their wants are and needs are in specifications. So it’s really great when we have an organization out there looking out for the little people, people who need those extra services. So, that’s hats off to you guys at Spectrum and the Spectrum Access app. I think that’s fantastic.

Moving back to yourself, Petr, I can hear the passion in you about what you’re doing and where you’ve come from in this journey with disability, as you’re talking earlier in our interview about your upbringing and then transitioning to the U.S. and then what you went through with sight loss and sight change and lifestyle changes, and so, I need to ask, what do you feel is your sense of purpose today?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

I really am a big fan of the art of storytelling and I feel like my purpose, my contribution is really to allow people, or to create spaces within which people can share their story, and bring their full selves to the table. I think that when that happens, not only do people feel more comfortable, employees, customers feel more comfortable, but also it allows us to understand how to build better products and services to cater to the differences. We’re hearing so much about that today on the news and what’s happening socially in terms of injustice and such. I think that it’s really important for us to see the diversity, the differences in all people and cater to those differences. Meaning, you can’t just build one product fits all. It has to have various facets that represent the people for whom it’s built. And I think storytelling or providing the environment in which people can share those stories really fosters that kind of growth in our community and that kind of growth in our products. So, I think that perhaps my purpose is to build that bridge to where people can open up and be their authentic selves.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I love that, authentic selves. I think that’s what you are. I love that. And describe yourself in one word, what would that be?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

As if the limitations of language weren’t enough, we have to limit it to one word.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Yes.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

It’s a bit audacious to put forth a word myself that would represent me. So, I’ll pull from what I’ve heard other people… the word that other people would use to describe me, and that would be charismatic. I think I bring charisma to the areas that I’m passionate about, so I would go with charismatic.

Nasreen Bhutta:

I totally agree. I can see that. Thank you so much for sharing of yourself and your journey and talking about the Spectrum Access app. How can we reach you?

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Well, for customers wanting to learn more about accessibility features offered for Spectrum’s products today, I would recommend that you call our customer service line that’s dedicated for customers with disabilities. And that phone number is 1-844-762-1301. Now, if you’ve got some feedback on the designs of our products or have suggestions, or maybe some concerns that that team wasn’t able to handle regarding accessibility, you can reach out to us directly at accessibility@charter.com. And if you’ve got Spectrum Access specific related feedback or questions, you can email us at spectrumaccess@charter.com. And I would also let people know that we’ve got accessibility resources online that you can check out, if you go to spectrum.net. I believe the URL would be spectrum.net/page/accessibility. You get more information about our accessibility offerings.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Brilliant. Thanks, Petr.

Petr Kucheryavyy:

Thank you.

Nasreen Bhutta:

To find this feature and many other articles and innovative information, visit the Cane EnAbled page in Beyond Sight Online Community at boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Image Description:

Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. A waist-up shot of Petr is on the cover, wearing a yellow v-neck sweater over an olive green shirt. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of text that say “Petr Kucheryavyy | The Amazing Spectrum Access App.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon who is walking with her white cane in one hand and handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped-in waist to just above the knee. She’s also sporting her signature explosive hairstyle and yellow text Cane EnAbled” is under the circle.

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1 thought on “Seeing The Spectrum | Petr Kucheryavyy

  1. I like the idea of being talked to through a set up even for those with sight. While living with an older woman and then becoming her caretaker for awhile, I spent so much time on the phone with customer service for her cable TV. She’d use the remote, push the wrong button and the entire set up would be off and we’d need to start again to get it all to work. She was so UN tech savvy and I’m not the greatest with it all, so this happened frequently.

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