A Stop On The Dial For The Disabled

A 24-HOUR CHANNEL FOR disabled people has started operations across the U.S. Called Kaleidoscope, the San Antonio-based channel figures it can find an audience among the estimated 49 million Americans with some form of physical handicap. The Apr. 30 launch was an expansion of a three-hour-a-day service that began in 1990, the day President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now available to 15 million homes, Kaleidoscope already offers a wide program lineup. Former House Whip Tony Coelho, an epileptic, hosts a show focused on Washington issues related to the disabled. Vintage movies are captioned for the deaf. For blind persons, voice-overs describe the action. There's Kim's World, a talk show with a signing host, Kim Powers, who is deaf and blind. In the planning stage are sitcoms with handicapped actors and a shopping service featuring products for the disabled.

Some of the $80 million needed for the programming will come from fees that cable companies, required to screen public-interest programs, pay to carry the channel. Cash already comes from advertisers such as AT&T, Mattel, and J.C. Penney, which, for instance, pushes Velcro-fitted clothing. Plus, Kaleidoscope is negotiating with cable titan Tele-Communications Inc. to take an equity stake.

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