- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

Jeff and Suzanne Pledger of Maryland believe they have found a way to dramatically improve the quality of life for millions of people with disabilities worldwide using a common household tool the Internet.
They have created AbleTV.net, a Reston-based interactive Internet Web TV channel, that allows people with a variety of disabilities to watch and participate in events worldwide.
The channel, which is on TVWorldwide.com, a Chantilly-based Internet television network, debuted its first production, the Democratic National Convention, using "Webcapting," or captioned live streaming video over the Internet.
Mr. Pledger said the couple's interactive channel will revolutionize the political process just as real television did for the 1960 presidential election.
"It's no longer broadcast TV, it's the Internet," Mr. Pledger said. "That's where I believe the future is."
For the first time in history, anyone around the world with a computer, was able to virtually and interactively tune in to the convention activities.
During breaks in the convention, users didn't have to suffer through commercials, but could participate in interactive political chat sessions.
AbleTV, however, simply used the Democratic National Convention as a "springboard," to show off all of the ways of interactive Web TV, Mrs. Pledger said.
The Web TV uses interactive, voice-activated and captioning software, to reach out to people that cannot hear or see, for example.
"[The software] will read it to you for the visually impaired. For the … hard-of-hearing population, you can read the words, and if you're cognitively impaired, you have the built-in redundancy," Mrs. Pledger said.
Because the screen would reveal both captions and voice over the Internet, some cognitively impaired person could witness the events.
The site has already archived all of the convention. After anything is archived, AbleTV.net software can translate the production into multiple languages.
"To appreciate the technology, you don't have to have a disability," Mr. Pledger said.
About one-fifth of all Americans are disabled, according to the Bureau of the Census. And about 750 million worldwide are disabled, according to the World Health Organization.
The Pledgers say they hope to connect to all of them.
By this fall Internet users will be able to put video resumes on the interactive channel and participate in a children's story hour, the couple said.
Mr. Pledger said video resumes will be available for people with disabilities, providing in new opening to the job market.
Internet users should also expect to see the Mentors Corner, an interactive site on the channel where children can ask questions and develop relationships with role models.
The interactive television market is growing, according to a study by Jupiter Communications Inc. By 2004, the interactive television will engage nearly 30 million households nationwide.
Revenues currently come from advertising on the site, sponsorship of the site by companies and associations, and even Pay Per View-type subscriptions where users might have to pay a small fee to watch a program. Microsoft, for example, was a charter sponsor that gave the seed money to AbleTV.net, to get the site up and running.
Verizon Communications, Sun Microsystems and iCan.com are some of the company's advertisers.
"[Mr. Pledger's] vision and our vision are kind of one," said David Gardy, chairman and CEO of TVWorldwide.com.
While Mr. Gardy of TVWorldwide admits that the idea of airing programs over the Internet isn't new, the Pledgers' and his own vision, is something different.
He said most other Web TV networks simply air what is on mainstream television, while TVWorldwide plans to incorporate specialized channels.
According to a survey by Nielson Media Research, ACNielson eRatings.com, and NetRatings Inc., the number of streaming media users has increased 38 percent in the first half of the year.
Mr. Gardy had worked with "TV on the Web," another Internet TV network, but didn't see that as the vehicle for his vision a network of specialized channels for various communities, starting with AbleTV.net's target audience, people with disabilities.
The Pledgers started their business in 1998 after Mr. Pledger lost his vision from an illness. That was a major impetus to start the company, he said.
The first two years of the business was a research phase, the couple admitted. They went to seminars on how to start a business and networked.
Then, earlier this year, they took their idea to the TVWorldwide.com. TVWorldwide.com decided to host the Pledgers' AbleTV site, and the two companies went to work.
PSINet Ventures Ltd., a subsidiary of PSINet Inc., gave TVWorldwide.com about $3 million in its first round of financing, and has announced its second round of financing of an undisclosed amount.

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