Netflix has announced that it will roll out audio description across its titles, starting with Daredevil.
The superhero series, which follows a blind lawyer turned vigilante to clean up the streets of New York, was released on Netflix last Friday. Visually impaired fans, though, were disappointed to learn that it would not include audio description, leaving many unable to watch the show.
Audio description is a separate audio track for films and TV shows that describes what is happening on screen for those who cannot see it. The service has become relatively common in UK cinemas, but the streaming world is another matter entirely.
Netflix has no audio description at all, for example. While catch-up services for national broadcasters offer accessible content – the BBC iPlayer lists its audio described shows here, while 4oD does the same here – iTunes does not list any in a single category.
The community of visually impaired viewers has responded by banding together: there is a site, YouDescribe, that allows blind and visually impaired people to watch YouTube videos with audio description. Writer Robert Kingett, meanwhile, founded the Accessible Netflix Project, which has advocated for the VOD company to introduce descriptions. They also attempt to list the iTunes movies that do have audio descriptions, which, by their count, reaches a total of four: Monsters, Inc., Brave, Finding Nemo and Cars 2.
“Audio description CANNOT be toggled off after purchasing the special DVS versions below,” notes the site.
National non-profit law organisation Disability Rights Advocates supported the call for accessibility.
“Robert [Kingett] was definitely key in bringing this to our attention, as well as others at the ACB,” Larry Paradis, executive director at Disability Rights Advocates, told CNBC. “He’s been very much a motivator in getting these issues addressed.”
Now, thanks to these efforts and demands from fans, Netflix has announced that it will begin a rollout of audio description soundtracks, beginning – aptly – with Daredevil.
“At Netflix, we work hard to continually improve the experience for our members when viewing movies and shows on our service, including providing accessibility across devices. Now we’re expanding our accessibility options by adding audio description on select titles, beginning today with our new critically acclaimed series,” Tracy Wright, director of content operations at Netflix, wrote in a blog post.
Users can now choose audio narration just as they would choose the soundtrack in a different language.
Netflix will then expand their audio description service to other Netflix Original titles, including current and previous seasons of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Marco Polo.
Wright says that the company is “actively committed to increasing the number of audio-visual translations for movies and shows in our English-language catalogues”, and that they expect the soundtracks to be available for both major Netflix original content and “select other” titles. Netflix is also working with content providers to increase the amount of audio description across a range of devices.
“We are also exploring adding audio description into other languages in the future,” she adds.
Photo: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.